Earlier last week, news outlets around the world broke the news that Brock Turner, the 20-year-old former Stanford swimmer charged with sexually assaulting an unconscious girl, was being released from county jail three months early. After serving only half of his six-month sentence, Turner was allowed to leave on the grounds of “good behavior.”
Some have argued that the outrage over Turner’s release is unbased, as early releases are a fairly common part of the criminal justice system.
While the moral implications behind a reduced sentence are complicated, the overcrowding of prisons (coupled with the cost of housing inmates) often results in the release of prisoners prior to their original sentencing date. The issue of early release is a procedural issue not unique to Turner’s.
All of this considered, prison overcrowding and costs do not change the nature of Turner’s horrific behavior. Given both the existing incarceration system and the nature of his crime, Turner should have served his term in its entirety.
In no way was Turner’s six-month sentencing appropriate to his conviction. Those guilty of charges similar to Turner’s face a maximum sentence of ten years. The judge in Turner’s case, Aaron Persky, made an extremely controversial decision by dropping Turner’s sentence to six months. In the U.S. legal system, judges are given wide latitude. In this case, there appears to be no rationale for the light sentence other than some degree of perceived bias on the part of the judge — who is also a Stanford alum and former student-athlete.
When defending his decision, Persky cited the potential psychological impact that an extended prison stay would have on Turner. What Persky should have given more consideration, however, was the psychological impact that one undergoes when he or she is subjected to sexual assault while unconscious.
The privilege given to Turner is nothing short of unacceptable and unjustifiable. Other rapists, such as those without collegiate athletic status, are almost never given the same treatment. As pathetic as it may be, it appears that Turner’s status as a Caucasian male athlete at a rigorous private university caused him to be treated in a way that is atypical of rapists of different standings.
There are endless statistics that support the notion that those of privilege, especially white men, are given lighter sentences. Such bias issues are inexcusable and can in no way be rationally explained. But the situation regarding Turner sheds light on the larger issue of rape culture on college campuses. In recent years, there have been numerous global stories involving college students being sexually assaulted by their peers.
With most of these cases, sentences are brought down significantly and, in some cases, those guilty are let out of jail after serving only half of their already absurdly low sentence.
It is inexcusable that sexual assaults occurring on college campuses in the U.S. are seen as generally less legitimate than those occurring in other arenas. It is time for universities around the country — students, faculty and everyone else — to take a step back and do everything in their power to create an environment where students feel safest, where consent is understood to be a necessity, not merely a suggestion, and where alcohol is never an excuse.