By Kaylee Pearlman
LOS ALTOS HILLS, CA – In 2015, Brock Turner was handed a light sentence for felony sexual assault, and according to a MSNBC opinion piece, the Stanford sexual assault case was called “a white privilege cake with vanilla frosting on top.”
Aya Gruber, a law professor, claims there was “public backlash to the Brock Turner sentence and the campaign to remove the judge who delivered it…the subsequent recall campaign condemned Judge Aaron Perksy as the very symbol of state-sanction white privilege.
“And it was effective,” Gruber said, noting that in 2018 Persky was “the first judge to be recalled in California in 80 years.”
Gruber, author of The Feminist War on Crime: The Unexpected Role of Women’s Liberation in Mass incarceration, raised the question “but was this really progress for criminal justice?”
During the campaign, Gruber argued “there was a small chorus of people who saw the recall not as a victory for women and a symbolic triumph over white privilege but as a deeply misguided effort that did little for survivors…and exacerbated the over-incarceration of Black people and other marginalized groups.”
Gruber calls the critics “not rape apologists. They were women and people of color…sexual assault survivors.” She continues, saying “they were people with intimate knowledge of our criminal justice system who had repeatedly seen popular outrage…that made the U.S. the country with the highest incarceration rates…
“In the wake of the recall,” noted Gruber in the MSNBC opinion piece, “California judges became far more punitive in sentencing, and not just for sex offenses and privileged defendants.”
Gruber cited statistics showing that “in the six weeks following the announcement of the campaign to recall Judge Persky there was a 30 percent increase in sentences across the state.”
Gruber added that “the study echoes what many who engage in racial justice and anti-incarceration work already know…a punitive response to injustice that calls for harsher sentences…inevitably harms the people against whom the system is already stacked.
“What we have here,” Gruber said, “is a failure of imagination. Too many people could not imagine it possible to condemn the profound harms of sexual violence without doubling down on an overly broad and overly harsh criminal justice system.”
Gruber claimed the system “often fails to help survivors but succeeds in perpetuating racial, social and economic inequality.”
Gruber concludes that “the point is not to apologize for Brock Turner….it is not a constructive exercise to relitigate whether Turner’s relatively short sentence was appropriate (but) sexual assault survivors’ pain is real, lasting and far too common.
“These are pressing problems and we should seek a system that is fair to defendants, spares victims from unnecessary trauma and promotes healing…outrage provides none of these things,” wrote Gruber.
“The enormous effort put into recalling Judge Persky did not further prevention, accountability or healing. These are entry points to imagining a world in which the pursuit of gender justice does not sacrifice social justice,” Gruber’s MSNBC piece concludes.