What’s Wrong With the Brock Turner Sentence, June 7, 2016
It reveals our broken system for punishing sexual assault.
By Christina Cauterucci
Six months in county jail, maybe less with good behavior. That’s the punishment Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky saw fit for Brock Turner’s crime of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster outside a Stanford frat party. Turner, 19 at the time of the assault, was found guilty of three counts of felony sexual assault and was eligible to face 14 years in state prison; county prosecutors had asked for six years.
Turner’s victim wrote a devastating statement arguing that the sentence was too lenient; in a letter that perfectly exemplified the rape culture that enabled the light sentence, Turner’s father requested no jail time at all. Persky decided six months was enough—any more than that, he said, would have a “severe impact” on Turner.
Of course, when it comes to criminal punishment for sexual assault, imposing a severe impact should be the point. A short stint in jail will be a blip in the lifetime of a 20-year-old man. The more severe impact will come later, when Turner leaves jail and becomes a lifetime member of the sex offender registry.
Punishments for sex offenses are levied for three interconnected purposes: protecting a community from harm; sending a message to potential criminals about the consequences that await them; and rehabilitating offenders. Sex offender registries are databases of people who’ve commit sex-related crimes, which can range from public urination and indecent exposure to child pornography possession and rape. They are often publicly searchable and, depending on the state, can prevent registrants from living within certain distances of schools, churches, malls, parks, or airports; bar them from certain jobs; and require them to notify their neighbors that they once committed a sex crime.