Lawmakers outraged over Stanford sentence

Lawmakers outraged over Stanford sentence
© Greg Nash

Female lawmakers expressed outrage Tuesday over the sexual assault case at Stanford University that resulted in what critics said was a light sentence for the convicted attacker.

The attempted rape of an unconscious woman, which took place near a dumpster behind a fraternity party, is the latest such incident on a college campus to make headlines and yet another example, frustrated lawmakers said, of what’s become a societal problem.


Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Ex-Rep. Akin dies at 74 Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (D-Mo.), who used to prosecute sexual assault cases as a lawyer, said that the six-month jail sentence handed down to the former Stanford University student-athlete didn’t appear to provide adequate punishment.

“Typically, that would be considered an inappropriate sentence,” she said.

She further tore into the defendant’s father for comments downplaying his son’s crime. In a letter to the judge overseeing the case, Dan Turner argued that the verdict was “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

“I thought the comments of the father were beyond inappropriate,” McCaskill said. “You don’t characterize someone who has been convicted of sexual assault as having ‘20 minutes of action.’ That’s not what you say.”

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandKlobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Five ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead MORE’s (D-N.Y.) office was also critical, arguing that a “short sentence sends the wrong message.”  

A California jury found Brock Turner, 20, guilty on three counts, including intent to commit rape of an intoxicated and unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person, for the January 2015 assault. Two graduate students, who reportedly were riding past on their bicycles, stopped the assault and tackled Turner.

At a hearing last week, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky handed down a sentence of six months in a county jail with three years of probation. The judge expressed concern that a longer sentence, which could have been up to 14 years in state prison, would have a “severe impact” on Turner.

The victim, who has chosen not to make her name public, directly addressed Turner at the sentencing in a lengthy, emotional statement detailing the attack’s traumatic impact on her life.

The 23-year-old woman provided her statement to BuzzFeed, and it has received nearly 9 million views in the last four days.

“The probation officer’s recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft time-out, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women,” she said, questioning whether a less privileged defendant would face a similarly lenient sentence.

“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?” she said.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinProgressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Five faces from the media who became political candidates MORE (D-Calif.), a Stanford alumna, was reluctant to comment on the severity of the sentence because of Turner’s appeal. Instead, she criticized underage drinking on college campuses.

“Alcohol is illegal essentially if you’re a juvenile, but that doesn’t stop anybody and it’s now reaching epidemic proportions and it’s affecting everything,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein said Stanford should “think of barring alcohol on campus” given what happened.

Public outrage over Turner’s sentence has led to an effort to recall the judge. More than 402,000 people have signed a petition calling for Persky to be removed from the bench.

“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,” the petition states.

Persky would have faced voters on Tuesday as California conducts its presidential, Senate and House primaries, but he didn’t draw any challengers this year.

McCaskill and Gillibrand have been pushing legislation to establish new resources and support services for student victims, require colleges and universities to meet minimum training standards to address sexual assaults and create a student disciplinary process.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would also penalize schools receiving federal funds that fail to report crimes on campuses and share information about what they are doing to improve campus safety.

“We’ve got a good bipartisan bill that we’ve hammered out over months. It would be great if we get some floor time,” McCaskill said.

In the House, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation that would enhance penalties for violations of a law requiring universities to share information about campus crime.

She agreed that the sentence was too lenient, adding that her “stomach was in knots” while reading the victim’s statement.

“Meanwhile, you have a woman who is emotionally destroyed and physically harmed, and that is not given the same degree of consideration as the potential status of this young man,” Speier said.

“I think that what this case underscores is the fact that there’s still a very unequal setting under which these cases are handled.”

Speier’s office told The Hill that she plans to unveil additional bills in the coming weeks to require universities to share details about disciplinary proceedings if a student accused of sexual assault transfers to another school, as well as require universities to report professors’ misconduct to institutions that offer federal research grants.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE has vowed to crack down on campus rapes if she wins the White House.

“As president, I’ll fight to make sure every campus offers every survivor the support she needs and will make sure those services are comprehensive, confidential and coordinated,” she said in September.

“Rape is a crime wherever it happens and schools have an obligation. I think it’s both a legal obligation and a moral obligation, to protect every student’s right to get an education free from discrimination, free from fear.”