Much has been written over the past week or so about the case of former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, who was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at a frat house party, then sentenced to six months in jail by California Judge Aaron Persky.

The high-profile case has drawn attention to some key issues related to rape and sex crimes, and generally raised awareness of sexual assault on college campuses and nationwide.


"How this particular case got so much attention, I'm not sure, but I'm glad," Janice Kispert, the CEO of Rape Crisis Intervention Services of Carroll County, told me when I talked to her about it earlier this week. "This is what we need. You just don't hear about it."

Letters asking for leniency in sentencing, written by Turner's parents and friends — particularly one by his father, who inexplicably describes the sexual assault as "20 minutes of action" — have fueled outrage, while the victim, who has chosen to remain anonymous and has been called Emily Doe, has been praised for so eloquently spelling out some of the stereotypes and realities of how society still perceives sexual assault.

Among the issues is whether the six-month jail sentence from Persky, himself a Stanford graduate, matched the crime. The reality is that Turner will likely only serve three months in local jail if he keeps a clean record. It's an incredibly light sentence for a heinous crime.

Was it lighter because of Turner's background, that of a star athlete with sights on making the Olympic swim team and no previous criminal history? In their plea for a lighter sentence, Turner's family suggested prison time would ruin their son's once-promising life and Persky seemed to take that into account when handing down sentencing.

Many have since called for Persky's removal from the bench. Prospective jurors have said they will refuse to serve on a jury in an unrelated case he is hearing.

The maximum sentence for the three felony crimes of sexually assaulting an unconscious victim Turner was found guilty of is 14 years; prosecutors were asking for six years. The mandatory minimum sentence is two years, but in California judges have the ability to sentence below the guidelines in an "unusual case where the interests of justice would best be served."

Was that the case here? Multiple reports seem to indicate that while it was certainly a light sentence, it was a legal one. Because of that, recalling Persky seems unlikely.

It also doesn't seem like it would bring any additional justice to the victim, nor act as a deterrent to future sexual assaults. Might it give judges pause when considering sentencing in the future? Perhaps.

The real problem with the light sentence and likely inaction against the judge, however, is that it works against the efforts of victims advocates who encourage them to press charges and take the matter to court — or even report the sexual assault at all.

"Even if you go to court, this is what could happen," Kispert said. "It further gives credence to victims not reporting."

On the other hand, the letter from the victim will hopefully do the opposite. It should be required reading for anyone — victims of sexual assault, men and women, young and old — to understand the effects that such crimes can have on an individual.

So what have we learned here and what can we take from it to prevent sexual assaults in the future?

For one, the case is a great example of bystander intervention. Two Stanford graduate students riding their bikes spotted Turner on top of the unconscious, half-naked victim and approached him, asking him what he was doing. When he ran, the two chased him, tackled him and held him until police arrived.

"I hope it empowers people to be active bystanders," Kispert said.


It's an extraordinary example of bystander intervention, one that doesn't necessarily have to be replicated to be a hero. Any action to stop or interrupt a potential sexual violence will do. As Kispert notes, "If you see something, say something, do something."

Something parents can do is talk to their children about sexual assault, about consent, about not being afraid to tell someone. It's an uncomfortable conversation, to be sure, but it's a necessary one. Read Emily Doe's letter with them.

And if you know someone who has been sexually assaulted, be there for them. Let them know where to get help. Rape Crisis Intervention Services offers an 24-hour hotline at 410-857-7322 for victims and anyone who needs to talk about sexual assault.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at