Earlier this week, stand-up Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was found guilty on three different sexual assault counts. Prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to six years in prison, but Judge Aaron Persky found that sentencing too harsh. He instead sentenced Turner to only six months in jail, because of his age and the apparently too harsh atmosphere of prison on someone who was a legal adult and decided to assault someone.
Let’s talk about this sentencing. On the one hand, those working in the field of assault prevention know all too well how hard it is to get a conviction period. The fact that he was found guilty and given jail time at all was one of life’s victories.
And yet this 20 year old man was going to be too fragile for prison. This 20 year old man, who was found guilty of assaulting someone and altering their very view of the world they live in, was just too innocent to be held responsible for his crimes.
This is not just something we see here, though. This is a symptom of a bigger societal framework in play. Though this example was extended to a court of law, countless times we have seen perpetrators of sexual assault on college campuses be given the most lenient of punishments. As stated by The Hunting Ground, a ground-breaking film about the reality of sexual assault on college campuses, some punishments for sexual assault include “expulsion upon graduation,” community service hours, small fines and writing reflection papers about how they impacted their community.
And here is one of the most forgotten but precious pieces of the puzzle: while 1 in 5 women will be a victim of sexual assault in college, only 6% of men will perpetrate sexual assault. This means that a vast majority of perpetrators will repeat their offenses. Which is the thing that makes this case so frustrating to those who know anything about how sexual assault perpetrators work. Six months in jail, reflection papers and $100 fines are not substantial enough time and punishment for someone to deeply reflect on the real impact of their actions.Judge Persky believes this man “will not be a danger to others.” This terrifies me. This means that those we trust to serve the correct punishment for the severity of a crime don’t understand the realities of sexual assault. This echoes a societal sentiment that assault is a mistake, something someone didn’t mean to do and that they will never do again. We can’t even believe those words when they come from children; how can we take them seriously from grown adults? If he even ends up serving the full six months, it is not rehabilitative. It’s a time-out, a detention. We wonder why assault numbers don’t budge; maybe we should instead reflect and wonder why we, as a society, don’t take assault seriously.