By Chandra Bozelko . . . Harassment and assault of women is a serious problem and we need to correct our culture to eliminate it. But the recall in Santa Clara County, California, of Aaron Persky, the judge who sentenced Brock Turner, isn’t the way to change things.
The Brock Turner debacle raised controversy in 2016 when the former Stanford student, convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault, was sentenced to six months in a county jail, followed by three years of probation. “Obviously, the prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Persky said when rejecting the state’s recommended sentence of six years in prison.
The backlash against Turner, and by extension, Persky, came mostly from women’s rights activists. It looked and sounded a lot like Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ renewed tough-on-crime agenda announced in 2017: calls for mandatory minimum sentences for sex-based crimes and a sustained effort to remove a judge for, of all things, showing leniency. As someone who was sentenced to 10 years of correctional control (both prison and probation) for nonviolent crimes, Turner’s was a sentence probably better suited for a defendant like me. Knowing that incarceration does little to rehabilitate people, I don’t think Turner or society would have benefited from his spending any more time behind bars other than what Persky ordered.
Removing a judge who’s known for independence and mercy — however misapplied you think that mercy was — only strengthens the prison industrial complex. In order to find easier ways of putting men in prison, including new judges who will sentence convicted sex offenders in prison for long terms, the campaign to stop rape — at least how it’s manifested with the Persky recall — is starting to side more with police and prosecutorial power than women’s rights. Thinking the police and punishment will guide people away from sexual violence is actually not new. Consider that the Violence Against Women Act was actually part of our country’s toughest crime bill in 1994. The concept even has a name; it’s called “carceral feminism” and the #metoo movement has resurrected discussion of it.
This strategy has so backfired that it has resulted in female victims’ being incarcerated during the prosecution of rape cases because the prosecution — and impending punishment — was more important than the victim.
Consider these examples. In 2016, a woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder broke down on the stand as she testified at the Houston trial of the man who raped her. She was the second rape victim the authorities incarcerated in Houston to assure that she appeared at trial.