Widespread Outrage Directed at Judge in Stanford Sexual Assault Case

June 7, 2016 Updated: June 8, 2016

Outrage is being directed at a judge who presided over the sentencing of a former Stanford University swim team member who was convicted of three sexual abuse counts—with some calling on his removal from the bench. 

At least 250,000 people have signed petitions, including a popular one on Change.org, demanding that Judge Aaron Persky face consequences for sentencing the Brock Turner to six months in county jail for raping an unconscious woman.

The case gained the country’s attention after the unnamed victim wrote a letter describing her ordeal.

Her letter clashed with a complaint Turner’s father wrote, who said that his son’s life had been ruined. “He will never be his happy go-lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile,” his father, Dan Turner, said.

Judge Pesky explained his decision—what many critics described was a lenient punishment: “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” He said that since Turner was drunk at the time of the attack, he should be treated differently.

“There is less moral culpability attached to the defendant who is … intoxicated,” the judge said, according to the New York Times.

Persky also added that news coverage surrounding Turner’s case impacted him: “The media attention that has been given to this case has in a way sort of poisoned the lives of the people that have been affected. … The question I’ve asked myself is … ‘Is state prison for this defendant an antidote to that poison?'”

BuzzFeed later published the victim’s full courtroom statement, decrying the role of class and male privilege in the trail and sentencing. The letter has since gone viral, with it being viewed 5 million times. CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield on Monday spent the better part of an hour reading from the victim’s letter live on the air.

The victim wrote:

The probation officer weighed the fact that he has surrendered a hard-earned swimming scholarship. 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.

The victim, 23, said she wasn’t a student at Stanford, and was attacked while visiting the campus and attended a party in January 2015. She spoke of drinking at the party but didn’t remember the assault. Witnesses said they found her attacker on top of her unconscious, and she said she only later learned of the assault in news reports. Turner tried to flee, but he was tackled and held to the ground before police arrested him.

The Guardian reported that Judge Pesky is a Stanford law graduate who was captain of the university’s lacrosse team.

Michele Landis Dauber, a Stanford law professor who has been outspoken in the case, said she is trying to get Pesky recalled.

“He has made women at Stanford and across California less safe,” said Dauber. “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.'”

In a statement, Jeff Rosen, the district attorney for Santa Clara, Calif., slammed Pesky’s sentence. He described Turner as a “predatory offender” who refused to show remorse.

“Campus rape is no different than off-campus rape,” he said. “Rape is rape.”

The defendant’s father said his son will use his time on probation to educate other college students “about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.”