When Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky handed Stanford rapist Brock Turner a sentence of six months in a county jail and probation, he couldn't have foreseen the international furor his judgment would cause. For Persky, that Thursday afternoon in June in a Palo Alto courtroom was just another day in the office: albeit one that would have major ramifications for Persky.
Persky is now at the center of a recall campaign, led by Stanford law professor Michele Landis Dauber. In the months since the ruling Judge Persky has been placed under renewed scrutiny, causing prosecutors in a forthcoming sexual assault case to ask to have him removed from proceedings. Meanwhile, millions have signed a petition to have Persky removed from the bench.
Now new evidence has emerged of another possible case that involves Persky to handing down an unusually lenient sentence. The Guardian reports that Persky sentenced 48-year-old sex offender Robert James Chain to just four days in jail and three years of probation for possession of child abuse images. Because he'd already spent a night in jail on being arrested, Chain didn't end up seeing the inside of a cell again.
According to the Palo Alto Weekly,police arrested Chain in May 2014 and found him in possession of one video and more than 200 images of child abuse on his computer, including one featuring an infant.According to police documents, Chain's wife was allegedly aware of the fact that her husband viewed such images online.
While such crimes usually carry a maximum three-year penalty, Persky indicated at Chain's sentencing that he "would be receptive" to reducing Chain's felony to a misdemeanor after a year's successful probation. A hearing on his motion to reduce the charge is set for later this month.
Those behind the Persky recall campaign allege that the judge offered an unduly lenient sentence to Chain—a married, white father-of-two—having analyzed similar cases in the area from 2012 to 2016, also involving first-time offenders who pleaded guilty or no-contest. They found 14 comparable cases involving similar types and amounts of child abuse images. In every case except Chain, the offender was sentenced to six months in a county jail.
In comments to the Guardian, Dauber describes the "only variable that seems different between this case and other cases [involving similar crimes] is that the defendant had Judge Persky." She added, "It's pretty clear from our perspective, we have a judge who is not taking the harms of sexual violence and sexual crimes seriously enough."
"Our experience is that most people who commit internet offences have no previous criminal history and would be described as first-time offenders," explains Tom Squire of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a child protection charity. He tells me that these people—men like Chain, a first-time offender—may well go on to pose a risk of committing contact sexual offences. But even if they don't, their crimes should still be viewed as abhorrent and dangerous.
"We know this online behavior harms the children in the images," Squire says. "It promotes the sexual abuse of children, it normalizes that behavior and we know that victims who've been abused in the production of these images often feel re-victimized as the images are viewed online."
Contrary to your impressions of tinted glasses-wearing perverts lurking behind net curtains in dark rooms, there's no one type of online sex offender. Many a married, respectable-looking father-of-two can be guilty of viewing such images online, even if they don't serve a day behind bars. "We're struck by the wide range of individuals who engage in this behavior. They can be quite young—people who are adolescents, right up to people who are in their eighties."
Given this, it's important that if you've got your suspicions—as Chain's wife allegedly did—that you seek help. Squire points to dedicated http://www.stopitnow.org.uk/the_helpline.htm that can offer support. "The typical concerns are that people are spending an unusual amount of time online, or being secretive about their online activities. Perhaps they're withdrawing more and not being themselves."
Some offenders may believe—mistakenly—that they're doing anything wrong. "We know from our own research that there are tens of thousands of individuals out there who are engaged in their behavior. They might justify their actions in the mistaken belief they're not harming anyone. We'd urge these people to come forward."
Ultimately, you can never really know what another person is doing online—and sometimes the loved ones of child abusers are in for a horrifying surprise. "For some, there aren't clear warning signs that something's going on in terms of their loved ones' behavior. They have a clear set of needs for coming to terms with what they've discovered."
Given that the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world—a society in which mandatory minimum drugs laws can derail entire lives for something as simple as possession of weed—the fact that Persky allowed a convicted sex offender to walk free from him courtroom will give many pause for thought. As the Persky recall petition continues apace, expect to see renewed attention on his sentencing decisons.