After a former star athlete was sentenced to six months in jail for three counts of sexual assault, a Stanford law professor and a groundswell of activists are calling on California Judge Aaron Persky to resign, saying the punishment he meted out was far too lenient.
Twenty-year-old Stanford swim star Brock Allen Turner was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault for penetrating with an object a 23-year-old woman who was passed out and incapable of consenting. The maximum penalty for his crime was 14 years in jail, and prosecutors asked for six years, but instead Judge Persky slapped him with a six month sentence, saying a harsher penalty would have a "severe impact" on the aspiring athlete. His sentence includes probation and his name in a sex offender registry.
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition against Judge Persky, pointing to "appearance of bias" toward his fellow Stanford alumni and athlete, and Stanford law professor Michele Landis Dauber has told media she plans to launch a formal campaign to have him removed.
"He has made women at Stanford and across California less safe," Dauber said in an interview with the Guardian. "The judge bent over backwards in order to make an exception ... and the message to women and students is, 'you're on your own,' and the message to potential perpetrators is, 'I've got your back.'"
The calls for the judge to step down were triggered by the 23-year-old woman's victim impact statement, which went viral over the weekend. In the 12-page statement provided to BuzzFeed, the woman described the arduous and traumatizing process of having a rape kit done and not being able to recall the previous night's events due to her severe intoxication.
"One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article," her impact statement reads. "In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. That was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work. I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me. That's when the pine needles in my hair made sense, they didn't fall from a tree. He had taken off my underwear, his fingers had been inside of me. I don't even know this person. I still don't know this person."
'The message to women and students is, 'you're on your own,' and the message to potential perpetrators is, 'I've got your back.''
In his defense, Turner argued the penetration was consensual, but a jury convicted him of sexual assault with intent to rape.
When he handed down his sentence, Judge Persky noted that the defendant was also intoxicated, and said, "Obviously, the prison sentence would have a severe impact on him."
The petition encourages those who sign to fill out a complaint form against the judge, and states California judges can be removed by impeachment, recall election or by the commission on judicial performance appointed to investigate judicial misconduct.
In a statement, Turner's father defended his son, saying he wasn't a violent person and didn't deserve jail time.
"These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways. His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action," Dan Turner wrote.
"The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations. What I know as his father is that incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock. He has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015."
Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont