Dear Judge Aaron Persky, Former Executive Committee Member of the Support Network for Battered Woman, Recipient of the State Award for Civil Rights Leadership, and fighter “to keep the most dangerous sex offenders in custody in mental hospitals,”
Since your ruling came out in the Brock Turner trial, I’ve walked around in disbelief while attempting to understand the motivation behind your ruling. While this case is truly disturbing and Brock’s initial attack and subsequent defense was despicable, there was supposed to be a silver lining. This was going to be the case that set a precedent; THE precedent. One that demonstrated to sexual predators the severity of their actions and the consequences that would follow. As a survivor of sexual assault and one who, like many of my friends, never saw justice for what was done to them, I took a small amount of solace in the fact that despite these terrible assaults on women, future attorneys would be able to defend survivors with this case. They would be able to refer to Brock’s sentencing as justification for future sentencing and maybe, just maybe, rape culture in this country would finally turn around. So rarely is there enough evidence to convict and sentence the attacker, yet this case was complete with victim (to use the official legal jargon, though I dislike the term), witnesses, police reports, hospital records and a jury of 12 that came back with a verdict of “guilty” on all three counts. You had a chance to hold Brock accountable and set the precedent so many of us have been waiting for.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, you set a different precedent; one by where if you have enough money and influence, history can be retold and actions excused. I have no doubt that this case will be referred to in defense of first-time and serial rapists as a way to guarantee less than the minimum sentence, putting them back on the same streets where they committed their crimes. What happened to the judge with a record of standing up for women? Past court cases and numerous awards and reelections (including one this past Tuesday) proved your dedication to women’s rights so why, WHY did you set us back so far?
I’ve spent too much time pondering this case and I think I’ve come up with an explanation. To clarify, I did not say excuse, I said explanation. I think that from the very beginning of this trial, you saw yourself in young Brock. He is an athlete at an elite institution, the same institution you attended, with a lot of promise who, in the absence of this crime, would likely have gone on to do great things, just as you yourself have. I believe you took pity on Brock because you thought, “if that was me at 19, I would have wanted a second chance. I would have changed.” I believe that YOU believe Brock will change. But here’s the glitch with this logic: if you see pieces of yourself in Brock, then I fear for the man he will become. Through this trial, you have proved the man you’ve grown into; a man who cannot see past his own privilege and experience. This bias incapacitates you to do your job. You have a sworn duty to uphold the law and serve justice, yet you did neither of those things in this case.
You claim you don’t think Brock will be a danger to others. While his past behavior contradicts this statement (just ask the survivor), there’s another issue at hand. Even if Brock does not end being a danger to others, your ruling is just that. You’ve told the world that one-time rapists should not be held accountable for their actions. That survivors should have to endure the guilt, hurt, terror, fear, and indignation of facing their attacker. That attorneys should be able to shame, demonize, and torment the survivor to reach the same sentence you’ve handed down.
By relieving Brock of a prison sentence, you’ve bestowed a precedent of leniency and tolerance onto current and future sexual assault cases everywhere. Women will pay for this decision at bars, on the street, at school, and at work because of their choice of outfit, the lipstick they apply, and the amount of alcohol they drink. You demonstrated that justice for a successful, smart, promising, innocent young woman was far less important than bestowing the appropriate punishment for a Stanford male swimmer who doubles as a rapist.
As luck and timing would have it Judge Turner, you were reelected to your seat during the California primary this past Tuesday. There is no going back on your ruling, so we must move forward. I beg you to see past your history, your bias, and your privilege. Squash your own precedent and set a new one. The safety of our girls depend on it.