Today, Friday, September 2, Brock Turner was released from jail.
Remember him? The 20-year-old former Stanford student sexually assaulted a young woman after a party in January, penetrating her with his fingers while she lay unconscious behind a dumpster. Although he was convicted on three counts of felony sexual assault, a judge sentenced him to only 6 months in prison.
Today, after serving three months of his sentence, he has been released early for good behavior.
The outcry over Turner’s sentencing was swift, and his case dominated headlines for weeks. The idea that someone could receive a six-month sentence out of a potential 14 years seemed shocking at the time. But since Turner's sentencing on June 2, a wave of similar cases proved we shouldn't have been surprised.
Turner's light sentence is not an anomaly, but a pattern in our justice system in which white, middle-class men receive little to no prison time — when they are prosecuted at all.
And in case we ever forget that fact, here are five cases from this summer that will help remind us:
Recent high school graduate David Becker, of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts was charged with sexually assaulting two of his classmates when they fell asleep after a house party. The 18-year-old was accused of digitally penetrating both women while they were unconscious. Becker told investigators that when one of the victims "didn't protest," he assumed it was "OK" to continue.
Apparently the judge agreed.
Palmer District Court judge Thomas Estes decided on August 15 to let Becker's case continue without finding, essentially granting him two years probation instead of a prison sentence. If Becker stays sober and does not contact the women for the next two years, he will never see a day in jail, and never have to register as a sex offender.
"He can now look forward to a productive life without being burdened with the stigma of having to register as a sex offender,” his attorney said at the time.
Another recent high school graduate, Nicholas Fifield of Des Moines, Iowa, faced sexual assault charges this August. This time, the charge was for sexual assaulting a mentally handicapped woman.
Fifield met his victim — who suffers from seven mental disorders, including autism and dissociative identity disorder — through an online dating website. He negotiated with the group home where she lives to let him take her to the movies on December 5. Instead, he took her to his home and forced her to perform oral sex.
Fifield faced a maximum of 10 years in prison for felony sex abuse. But he entered an Alford plea to a lesser crime on the day the trial was set to begin. At that point, Polk County prosecutor John Sarcone told the press he would not pursue jail time for Fifield, claiming "prison would not do this kid any good."Sarconne later confirmed with Revelist that he recommended no jail time for the "kid," but declined to explain his reasoning.
John P. Enochs
John Enochs of Downers Grove, Illinois also slid by on a plea deal this summer, getting just one year of probation after being accused of raping two women.
Enoch's first victim claimed she woke up at a frat party to an unknown man on top of her, attempting to rape her. She later picked Enochs out of a lineup, and surveillance video clearly shows Enochs entering the room after her that night. A second woman later came forward with a similar story, claiming to have been raped by Enochs at a Greek event. An eye witness confirms her account.
Despite the emergence of two victims, the prosecution agreed to a plea bargain for misdemeanor battery. The maximum sentence for this crime is much lighter than rape — one year in prison and a $2,500 fine — but Enochs got off even easier, with one year's probation.
His lawyer later blamed the entire case on "a whirlwind of emotion surrounding any allegation involving sexual assault on campus."
Austin James Wilkerson
Meanwhile, in Colorado, a college student slipped by with zero jail time after a jury found him guilty of both sexually assaulting a helpless victim and unlawful sexual contact.
On March 15, 2014, Austin James Wilkerson sexually assaulted an intoxicated freshman at University of Colorado at Boulder, after telling her friends he would take care of her. The victim spoke at his hearing about the effect of the attack.
"When I'm not having nightmares about the rape, retaliation or a retrial gone awry, I'm having panic attacks," she said. "Some days I can't even get out of bed."Judge Patrick Butler, however, said he "struggled" with the idea of putting Wilkerson in jail. Instead, he sentenced him to 20 years probation, and two years in a prison work-release program. The judge hopes his sentence will rehabilitate the assailant.
As the case that started the backlash, you could say Brock Turner was the worst of them all. It certainly was the most heart-wrenching, especially after the release of a powerful letter his victim read after the sentencing.
"You have no idea how hard I have worked to rebuild parts of me that are still weak," she wrote in her letter to Turner. "...I have to relearn that I am not fragile, I am capable, I am wholesome, not just livid and weak."
But in a way, many victims learned that same lesson in the aftermath of Turner's case: That we are not fragile, we are not weak, and we are capable of rebuilding.
Victims and allies, for example, lobbied to have judge Aaron Perskey fired. Just this month, he announced he'd no longer preside over sexual assault cases. Activists in California, where the rape took place, pushed for a minimum prison sentence for rape convictions. The California Assembly unanimously passed a minimum sentencing bill on August 30.
Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton both spoke out about the case, and Congress even read the victim's letter out loud. But more importantly, other victims started speaking up too: the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline saw a 35% increase in calls after the victim's letter was released.
If anything positive came of the Turner ordeal, it is the massive spotlight it shone on sexual assault, and on our criminal justice system as a whole.