Petition to sack Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky over Stanford rape case

People are calling for the head of the Californian judge who ignored the maximum sentence for rape and instead sentenced a former Stanford University student to just six months in jail.

Brock Turner, 20, was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault in March, and faced a maximum of 14 years in state prison. The prosecution recommended he receive six years.

But Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky said "a prison sentence would have a severe impact" on Turner and instead sentenced him to six months in county jail and three years of probation.

Now, almost 30,000 people have signed a change.org petition campaigning for Judge Persky to be removed from his position. The campaign is being led by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who says Turner's light sentence is a blow to sexual assault victims.

"He has made women at Stanford and across California less safe," Prof Dauber, who is a family friend of the 23-year-old victim, told The Guardian.

"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 January 2015, Turner raped a 22-year-old woman behind a garbage bin after a frat party, before two students cycling past tackled him and pinned him down until police arrived and arrested him.

Judge Persky went to Stanford University himself and was captain of the lacrosse team as an undergraduate.

When delivering Turner's sentence in court on Thursday, he was sympathetic to the defendant. He said there was "less moral culpability" attached to Turner's actions because he was intoxicated when he raped the victim. "The defendant is youthful and has no significant record of prior criminal offences," he added.

He also said the media's focus on Turner's case had "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?'"

Brock Turner, right, makes his way into the Santa Clara Superior Courthouse. Photo / AP
Brock Turner, right, makes his way into the Santa Clara Superior Courthouse. Photo / AP

After the sentence was announced, Local District Attorney Jeff Rosen said "the punishment does not fit the crime".

"The sentence does not factor in the true seriousness of this sexual assault, or the victim's ongoing trauma," he said. "Campus rape is no different than off-campus rape. Rape is rape."

Many commenters on the change.org petition were equally outraged at the leniency Judge Persky showed.

"Judge Persky failed to see that the fact that Brock Turner is a white male star athlete at a prestigious university does not entitle him to leniency. He also failed to send the message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class, race, gender or other factors," one person wrote.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, prosecutor in the Brock Turner case. Photo / AP
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, prosecutor in the Brock Turner case. Photo / AP

Another said, "When a judge is more concerned with the impact a harsh sentence will have on the life of a rapist than concerned with the lifetime impact the rapist's actions had on the victim, said judge does not deserve the position. Get him out of there!"

"I am sick of convicted rapists being met with leniency for fear of 'their lives being ruined'. There is not any reduced sentence for the victim. She is sentenced to a lifetime of fear and the horrifying knowledge that the justice system failed her," another person argued.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, who drew criticism for sentencing former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to only six months in jail. Photo / AP
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, who drew criticism for sentencing former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to only six months in jail. Photo / AP

The woman who was raped has spoken out about the support she received after her powerful impact statement detailing her sexual assault went viral, saying she was "overwhelmed and speechless".

The 23-year-old, whose identity remains anonymous to protect her privacy, said the positive responses to her 7000-word letter addressed to Turner had given her hope.

"I'm worried that my heart is going to grow too big for my chest," she toldThe Guardian.

"I remain anonymous, yes to protect my identity. But it is also as a statement, that all of these people are fighting for someone they don't know. That's the beauty of it.

Brock Turner was last week sentenced to six months jail for raping a woman he met at a college frat party in 2015. Photo / Supplied
Brock Turner was last week sentenced to six months jail for raping a woman he met at a college frat party in 2015. Photo / Supplied

"I don't need labels, categories, to prove I am worthy of respect, to prove that I should be listened to. I am coming out to you as simply a woman wanting to be heard. Yes there is plenty more I'd like to tell you about me. For now, I am every woman."

Her extraordinary piece of writing has received widespread praise, and yesterday CNN host Ashleigh Banfield made those words come to life, reading the letter out loud on live television.

Yesterday, Turner's father defended his son, arguing his life would be "deeply altered" by the court's verdict.

"His life will never be the one that he dreamt about and worked so hard to achieve," he said. "That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life."

Now a statement from Turner's childhood friend Leslie Rasmussen, which she read to the court, has been released. Ms Rasmussen said Turner was "not a monster" and was incapable of rape.

"It is frustrating to see the light that people are putting him in now. It used to be 'swim star' and now it's like he is the face of rape on campuses. It's such a false way to put it. I cannot believe it," she said.

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Ms Rasmussen said there was "absolutely no way" Turner went out that night "with rape on his mind."

"I think this is all a huge misunderstanding," she wrote. "I think that the bikers who found him did the right thing by keeping him there in case he was attempting rape, but that after the investigation, it should have found Brock to be innocent.

"Brock is not a monster. He is the furthest thing from anything like that, and I have known him much longer than the people involved in this case. I don't think it's fair to base the fate of the next 10-plus years of his life on the decision of the girl who doesn't remember anything but the amount she drank, to press charges against him. I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn't right.

"But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn't always because people are rapists. It is because these universities market themselves as the biggest party schools in the country. They encourage drinking.

"I think it is disgusting and I am so sick of hearing that these young men are monsters when really, you are throwing barely 20-somethings into these camp-like university environments, supporting partying and then your mind is blown when things get out of hand.

"This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists. These are idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings and having clouded judgment.

"I'm not saying that is every case, because I know there are young men that take advantage of young women and vice versa, but I know for a fact that Brock is not one of those people. He is respectful and caring, talented and smart enough to know better."

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department, who booked Turner, was widely criticised for not initially releasing his mugshot. Instead, the main image being circulated is from his Stanford yearbook, where he is smiling and wearing a suit.

Finally, more than a year after he was arrested, the mugshot was released yesterday evening.

"Why is it important that the booking photo be released? Optics," wrote The Cut's Dayna Evans. "Turner's name may be permanently marred by the crime, but he's granted a reprieve by only having images of him smiling in dress suits available to the public.

"Presenting him as a well-dressed college athlete instead of the convicted felon could also open the victim's statements up to unfair scrutiny."

Read the victim's full impact statement here

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