The father of a former Stanford University athlete convicted on multiple charges of sexual assault has said his son should not have to go to prison for “20 minutes of action”.
Brock Turner, a former swimmer at Stanford University, was on Thursday sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and probation for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
The 20-year-old from Dayton, Ohio – who was convicted of three felonies, including assault with intent to rape – faced a maximum of 14 years in prison.
But Turner was expected to spend only three months of a six-month sentence in county jail after the judge, Aaron Persky, said positive character references and lack of a criminal record had persuaded him to be more lenient. Prison would have a “severe impact on him”, the judge said.
The decision sparked anger on social media, with many quoting from the victim’s impact statement, which went viral after being published by international media.
The 23-year-old victim gave an emotional speech at the hearing, an abbreviated version of a 12-page impact statement submitted to Judge Persky before the sentencing hearing.
She recounted going to a party on the evening of 17 January 2015 and waking up the next morning in hospital with no memory of the night before. She also told of the invasive exam she underwent to collect evidence and the “excruciating” interrogation of the court trial.
“I thought there’s no way this is going to trial; there were witnesses, there was dirt in my body, he ran but was caught … Instead, I was told he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators … That he was going to go to any length to convince the world he had simply been confused. …
“I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name.”
Her victim impact statement – released by the district attorney’s office and published in full by Palo Alto Online, among others – has received global attention for shedding light on what advocates say is an epidemic of violence on college campuses. On BuzzFeed, it has been viewed more than 4m times since being published on Saturday.
Turner’s father had called on the judge to grant his son probation, saying that he had already paid “a steep price … for 20 minutes of action”.
Michele Dauber, a professor of law at Stanford University, tweeted an excerpt from the probation pre-sentencing report in which Dan Turner said his son’s life had “been deeply altered forever”.
“He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile,” he wrote of his son. “His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his lack of appetite.”
His statement was met with fury on social media, with many condemning its tone.
Responding to questions over the statement’s validity, Dauber said it was “all too real” and that Dan Turner had read it aloud in open court at sentencing. She has been contacted for comment.
Dan Turner said imprisonment was not the “appropriate punishment” for his son, who was “totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity”.
“By having people like Brock educate others on college campuses is how society can begin to break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate results.”
This echoed Turner’s own statement, in which he said he was in the process of establishing a program for high school and college students so that he could “speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that”.
The victim was scathing on this point in her address at Thursday’s hearing, noting that Turner had said he wanted to “show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life”.
“Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. …
“Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrolment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”
Prosecutors had asked for Judge Persky, a Stanford alumni, to sentence Turner to six years in a state prison. The maximum for the three felony charges – assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object – was 14 years.
In justifying the six-month sentence, Judge Persky said positive character references written on Turner’s behalf, such as that given by his father, had factored into his decision. His age, his lack of a criminal history, and the role that alcohol played in the assault were also mitigating factors.
“A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” said the judge. “I think he will not be a danger to others.”
Judge Persky is running unopposed for re-election in the Santa Clara county election on Tuesday. A Change.org petition calling for him to be recalled from his judicial position had received more than 15,500 signatures at time of writing.
The Santa Clara county district attorney, Jeff Rosen, criticised the “unjust” sentence on Thursday, which he said did not fit the crime.
“Ultimately, the fact that the defendant preyed upon an intoxicated stranger on a college campus should not be viewed as less serious than if he assaulted an intoxicated stranger in downtown Palo Alto,” he said.
“Campus rape is no different than off-campus rape. Rape is rape. We will prosecute it the same.”
Rosen also praised the victim’s statement as “the most eloquent, powerful and compelling piece of victim advocacy that I’ve seen in my 20 years as a prosecutor”.
Palo Alto Online reported that Turner plans to appeal his conviction and will be represented by Dennis Riordan, a well-known San Francisco appellate attorney.