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Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Stanford Rape Case

Much has been written and said.  It's hard to imagine how Judge Aaron Persky gave former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner the light sentence that he did.  We expect more out of the judicial system and the hypothetical average kid that goes to an elite institution such as Stanford. 

As for Persky, he goofed, plain and simple.  There are calls for his resignation, his recall and his defeat at the polls in the fall.  My guess is that many will remain hot on this topic to mount a serious challenge to Persky.  That said, the prosecutor in this case has not called for his resignation.  In fact, if you read far and wide enough, the comments that you read about Persky are that he is a good and fair judge.  That said. . .  it's hard to find many quotes from attorneys that would criticize sitting judges.  The reason -- they have to appear before them and so do their firms.  As a result, there is no upside to criticizing a judge publicly after any case.  And that leads to the ultimate question -- is there a meaningful way to hold the judiciary accountable?  We have learned as a society that we have failed to find good ways to hold police accountable, and I think that the same holds true for prosecutors.  And now this, this, well, issue, fiasco, travesty of justice, what have you.

Turner made a terrible decision and committed a terrible act.  What the heck was he thinking?  He picked his sin, and for some reason he was fortunate enough to hire good counsel and then draw a judge like Persky, who was in a lenient sentencing mood.  And while he will have to live with those consequences forever -- being registered as a sex offender, having that on his record -- he is far from a victim here.  True, there is a lot of pressure on Stanford kids, on recruited athletes, on kids with Olympic ambitions, but almost all of them do not sexually assault unconscious women.  Yes, there is a lot of alcohol on campus and promiscuity, but, again, that Turner was drunk should by no means excuse what he did.  Most if not all sexual assaults on campus involve alcohol.  By imbibing and then overimbibing, Turner adopted some very risky behavior that does not usually lead to happy consequences and in this case led to bad ones.  He does not deserve understanding and leniency because he was caught up in a culture of alcohol and sex.  Would Judge Persky have been tougher on him had he been sober?  If so, why?  This was not a case of "he said, she said" or "when does no mean no," and I am sure there are cases that are ambiguous and can be most difficult for triers of fact because, well, the facts are not clear.  We all have to allow for the fact that everyone is entitled to a defense and that sometimes the accused did not do it.  But here, two witnesses caught up to Turner after they caught him in the act.  This wasn't a case of ambiguity -- this was an out and out rape.

Much has been made of the letter that Turner's father wrote.  Turner's father might not have written the most eloquent or sensitive letter, but we all would go pretty far to get our child a good defense lawyer and then write to the judge.  Anyone who has kids can tell you that.  Privately, parents might lecture their children and hold them accountable, but everyone is entitled to a defense and family support.  That doesn't mean that a horrible crime did not take place; of course it did.  I know that there are some people who would argue that Turner did the crime and should do the time and that his parents only are further coddling him by trying to help him and protect him.  Well, parents love their kids regardless of whether they swim in the Olympics or commit a crime.  Those who are aggrieved will pick apart the case and focus on this, but I think that their time would be better spent looking at the California judicial system, sentencing guidelines, how the judge came to this decision and what can be done to make everyone more aware of problems like this on campus and how to prevent them.  And it seems that they are doing just that.

This one left me speechless.  I fully empathize with the victim and her family.  Her note -- read aloud on television -- gives us tremendous insight into what a victim goes through and how horrible her experience was.  First years in college -- and especially men -- should read it and synthesize it and try as much as possible to avoid situations that could lead to the type of behavior that Brock Turner displayed -- and should remember that any woman is someone's sister, someone's daughter, someone's good friend -- and how would you like that to happen to your sister, your daughter or your good friend?  I hope that the victim is getting the help that she needs to recover as best she can; sadly, Judge Persky's abdication of his role exacerbates her pain instead of lessening it.  And I hope that society can take a deep look into problems like the one that befell her and take steps so that no one has to endure what she did.  We will express our outrage at the system for the lenient sentence, and we will respond to that as best we can.  But the victim -- and others like her -- too quickly get forgotten.  And the only way we can solve for the broader problems is by never forgetting them, and continuing to reach out to them and embrace them. 

Atop that, we are a society that reacts after the fact and attacks symptoms rather than causes.  We might be seventy-five pounds overweight and suffer from pre-diabetes and hypertension, but we expect inexpensive pills to help us as opposed to attacking the cause by eating less and more sensibly and by exercising.  We abhor the behavior that Brock Turner displayed but yet it still goes on, much of it in all likelihood unreported.  Society needs to attack the cause of these attacks -- whether it's putting kids in college who do not belong there, treating recruited athletes like they are entitled, something special and unaccountable, creating way too much pressure on them, making alcohol too available, not offering means of dealing with mental health issues, including stress, teaching them values and ethics and good manners -- the list is perhaps endless.  That would help a great deal.  And it's very important.

Because the sister of an undergrad who goes to a party and makes the mistake of drinking too much should end up walked home to sleep it off and not sexually assaulted on asphalt behind a dumpster. 

I hope that some good can come out of the victim's eloquence and her plight, the bad environment at Stanford and on other campuses and the shocking decision from the court in California.  This type of stuff has gone on for way too long.  It's time for society to hit the reset button and do something about it.


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