How two letters are redefining the Stanford University rape case - Firstpost
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How two letters are redefining the Stanford University rape case


If you have been following the news, chances are that you would've come across the Stanford University rape case featuring 'promising' swimmer Brock Turner, who was sentenced to a mere six months in jail after sexually assaulting an unconscious and intoxicated woman in January 2015.

If you haven't, here are the key details to bring you up to speed.

On 18 January, 2015, just before 1 am, two cyclists saw Turner on top of a woman near a dumpster, who appeared unconscious, reported SFBayThe report added that the bicyclists had to pin Turner to the ground to stop him from escaping.

Later, the woman, a 23-year-old, told investigators that she drank about four shots of whiskey before going to a fraternity party, and then drank vodka there. The next thing she said she remembered was waking up at a hospital in San Jose, where a deputy told her she may have been a victim of sexual assault.

It turned out that Turner had a blood-alcohol level that was twice the legal limit, according to the San Jose Mercury News. And hers was thrice the limit, besides having no recollection of the assault.

Brock Turner, who was guilty in the Stanford rape case. AP

Brock Turner, who was guilty in the Stanford rape case. AP

What made the case popular were two letters: The first one, that clocks a whopping 7,244 words, written by the victim (who has chosen to stay anonymous) and published in full (on 4 June) by Buzzfeed, who read it aloud to Turner, after she was angry with the "gentle" sentence awarded to him. The harrowing letter provides an exhaustive account of the sexual assault that happened in January last year and her coming to terms with it.

"My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self-deprecating, tired, irritable, empty," she had written.

The letter, which went viral, has been shared widely on social media, sparking outrage both online and offline due to the gravity of the assualt and the pointed questions she faced in court by Turner's lawyer.

Turner initially faced up to 14 years in state prison, after a jury convicted him of sexually penetrating an intoxicated and unconscious person with a foreign object. Prosecutors reportedly asked the judge to sentence him to six years in California prison. Meanwhile, probation officers recommended a lighter penalty of six months in county jail.

Judge Aaron Perksy referring the attacker's age and lack of criminal history, factored in the decision of awarding six months in county jail and said that he wouldn't be a "danger to others". The much-reduced sentence was decided keeping in mind only Turner's future — that he was a star swimmer who could have made it to the Olympics. Turner will be registered as a sex-offender for his whole life and complete a sex offender management program.

The second letter that did the rounds on 5 June was written by Turner's father protesting his son's sentence, calling what he did a "20 minutes of action", and that he paid a "steep price" for it. Naturally, outrage was multiplied manifold: the letter reeked of what's popularly known as white privilegemale privilege, misogyny and rape culture. The letter or statement was posted to Twitter by Michele Dauber, a law professor and sociologist at Stanford, who was part of the committee that was organising a recall challenge to Judge Persky. On Tuesday, a Change.org petition came into being, asking for the removal of Judge Persky from the bench for decision in Brock Turner rape case. As of 10.30 pm on Tuesday, it had 328,192 signatures.

The internet spun into action. A Twitter user Ali Ozeri, 'fixed' Turner's dad's letter. It received more than 12,000 retweets and 15,000 likes.

This case, like every other case of sexual assault and rape, tries to shatter myths that surround it: That alcohol isn't the cause of rape, neither are outlandish causes such as jeans or mannequins. That the culture of victim blaming exists everywhere — Turner's friend chalked it to "political correctness" before being careful not to blame the victim. That a woman's sexual history is relevant to her rape/sexual assault; The Cut listed it as a reason why more women don't report their rapes. That people still support the accused if he is male, white and an "achiever" — even as it has been taken down, a Facebook page insisting that Trump would fix things for Turner with a "well-deserved" pardon. That rape and sexual assault need to be taken seriously.

First Published On : Jun 8, 2016 07:44 IST

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