Justice

The Stanford Victim Reads Incredible Letter to the Man Who Sexually Assaulted Her

June 3rd 2016

By:
Tricia Tongco

On Thursday, Brock Allen Turner, the 20-year-old Stanford swimmer who publicly sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus last year, was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation.

During sentencing, the victim, now 23, who had had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit at the time of the assault and has no memory of the attack, read him a powerful letter describing the impact of the assault.

Man in jail holding his cell

The letter was printed in full by BuzzFeed:

"After a few hours of this, they let me shower. I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else."

You might be asking yourself, "Why is that sentence so short?"

In March, a jury convicted Turner on three felony counts, including "assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object," according to the Mercury News. Prosecutors had recommended that Turner receive a sentence of six years, The Guardian reported.

But Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky cited Turner’s age — 20 — and lack of criminal history as factors in his decision to give him a much shorter sentence.

“A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him," said Persky during Turner's sentencing on Thursday. "I think he will not be a danger to others."

The Cut's Dayna Evans pointed out that it's shocking that the judge would highlight the "severe impact" prison could have on the rapist in this case, seemingly diminishing the impact the sexual assault had on the victim.

Victims of sexual assault are often not taken seriously, with research suggesting that rape survivors may experience victim-blaming treatment from system personnel (termed secondary victimization or the second rape). It's no surprise then that few rape victims even report: 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police and 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail, according to the Rape, Incest & Abuse National Network.

In her letter to her attacker, the survivor in this case touches upon the many ways that sexual assault victims are blamed for their assault:

"The sexual assault had been so clear, but instead, here I was at the trial, answering questions like:

"How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner? Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? Who dropped you off at this party? At what time? But where exactly? What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What’ d you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? But what time did you do that? What does this text mean? Who were you texting? When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside? Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What color was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in."

Even though Turner was found guilty, his lax sentence plays into rape culture as a whole and the wrongly-held belief that sexual assault against women isn't as serious as what the perpetrator would face in jail.

She goes on to criticize how the media handled the narrative surrounding the case, citing an article that she read right after the assault:

“And then, at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times. How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment. If a first time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be? The fact that Brock was an athlete at a private university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.”

That wasn't the only article that portrayed Turner in a sympathetic light. A recent column in The Mercury News chose to frame Turner as the victim, saying "Nobody should be confused about the severity of this case for him. For the rest of his life, Turner will have to register as a convicted sex offender. That effectively closes many career avenues. It's a permanent blight."

The woman told BuzzFeed News the following about his "gentle" sentencing:

“Even if the sentence is light, hopefully this will wake people up. I want the judge to know that he ignited a tiny fire. If anything, this is a reason for all of us to speak even louder.”

[h/t The Cut and BuzzFeed]