The victim’s statement to Brock Turner, the former Stanford student convicted of sexually assaulting her, has been viewed online millions of times since last week. A CNN anchor read the statement, in full, on television. Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, read it aloud on the House floor. The case, which resulted in a six-month jail sentence and probation for Turner, has touched off furor among those who say the punishment is too light, and sparked vigorous debate about the intersection of sexual assault, privilege, and justice.
This is an astounding moment, in part because it’s so rare for sexual violence, despite its ubiquity, to garner this kind of attention.
“It’s incredible,” said Michele Dauber, a Stanford Law School professor who has pressed for the recall of the judge who sentenced Turner. “Why did that happen? First of all, it’s the tremendous power and clarity of thought that is reflected in the survivor’s statement.”
“She is helping people to understand this experience in a visceral and clear way,” Dauber added. “And she’s brushing away all the really toxic politics around campus assault that have built up. People have said, ‘How can we really believe these women? It’s his word against hers.’ This men’s rights movement has emerged. And there’s been a lot of rage happening out there. Then, whoosh, [this statement] really reframed it.”
It wasn’t just the statement. In March, Turner was convicted of three felony counts: sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and assault with an intent to commit rape. If it’s rare for someone to report a sexual assault in the first place, it’s even more unusual for that report to result in a conviction. In the vast majority of sexual assaults the perpetrators never serve time in prison—97 percent of cases, an analysis of Justice Department data by the anti-sexual violence advocacy group RAINN concludes.
Another unusual component of the case at Stanford: There were eyewitnesses. Two graduate students were riding their bikes through Stanford’s campus when they saw, “a man on the ground, thrusting toward a body,” The Mercury News reported in March.
What struck the two young Swedes was that the partner wasn't moving: She seemed almost comatose. "Hey, is everything all right?'' Lars Peter Jonsson remembers asking. It was then, he says, that the man moved and he saw a woman beneath him, her dress pulled up to expose her genitals. "Hey, what the f are you doing?" Jonsson says he asked. "She's unconscious."
The man, whom police have identified as Brock Turner, at the time a Stanford swimmer, attempted to flee. Jonsson testified that he gave chase, tripping Turner and then jumping on him. Arndt joined him shortly afterward while a third man called sheriff's deputies.
There was also physical evidence. Even in instances when victims agree to go through a SART exam, the medical exam that’s conducted after an alleged sexual assault, it doesn’t always yield usable information. Too often, such potential evidence is never analyzed, even when gathered: There is a backlog of hundreds of thousands of so-called rape kits in jurisdictions across the country, according to several measures.