For the first time in 80 years, a judge has been recalled in California. That judge is Aaron Persky who made headlines when he presided over the case of Brock Turner in 2016. Talk of a recall began almost immediately after the sentencing was handed down, and earlier this year the recall effort had gained enough signatures to put the decision to a vote.
That vote took place in early June, and 60% of voters were in favor of recalling Judge Persky. Cindy Hendrickson, who is also a Stanford graduate, will now take his place. When asked about the sexual assault cases Hendrickson has handled in the past, she told Newsweek:
“I felt like I really had an opportunity to make a difference not only in the lives of the victims but also in making the public more safe.”
In 2016 when Persky handed down Turner’s conviction and subsequent sentencing, he said he felt Turner “would not be a danger to others.” He was convicted of sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person, sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person, and intent to commit rape; the maximum sentence was fourteen years. Persky sentenced him to six months in jail, of which Turner only served three.
Persky insisted that a harsher sentence would disrupt Brock Turner’s life. “Prison would have a severe impact on him,” Persky said.
What he meant was that Turner was capable—or deserving, rather—of redemption. Turner was awarded with a compassion and empathy that his victim had been robbed of. Throughout the trial there was a lot of talk about how Brock Turner would be able to turn his life around. People believed he was a good guy who had done a bad thing, but that it didn’t make him bad—just a first time offender. Boys will be boys.
The ways that Persky and Hendrickson talk about public safety and sexual assault is important. Hendrickson made it clear that she views sexual assault and assaulters as dangers to the public. Persky doesn’t share that same view. Brock Turner’s victim, who came to be known as Emily Doe, read a statement at the court sentencing detailing her attack by Turner. Despite her harrowing story, Persky did not perceive Turner as a threat to the public or its safety. After all, he had only been convicted of sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person, sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person, and the intent to commit rape. Boys will be boys, and no one gets hurt.
With cases like this one, the #MeToo movement, and efforts from advocates and survivors, our cultural perception of sexual assault has begun to shift. That shift can and should inspire new legislation, and a change to the criminal justice system and those who set the rules. Sexual assault should be seen for what it is—a threat to the public’s safety and individuals’ bodily autonomy.
Lawmakers need to be willing to disrupt the lives of boys when they commit atrocious crimes, even if they are are good swimmers, good students, or good, rich white boys. If we can’t protect all of the victims from being assaulted, the least we can do is refuse to employ authoritative figures who put the wellbeing of their attackers above theirs. It is the job of judges and elected officials to uphold the standard of living set by the people they serve. The recall of Judge Persky and vote in of Judge Hendrickson makes a statement: