There’s Another Way the Stanford Survivor Could Find Justice

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site. Posts published on the Community site do not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Brock Turner, otherwise known as the Stanford swimmer, was convicted in March of sexually assaulting a woman while she was unconscious behind a dumpster. Although he faced fourteen years in prison, he was sentenced earlier this month to six months in a county jail and probation.

To this day, Turner has not taken responsibility for his actions. His father and friend have written letters that could serve as instruction manuals for rape culture. Judge Aaron Persky, who presided over Turner’s sentencing, incited public outrage when he indicated that he had reduced Turner’s sentence because incarceration would have a “severe impact” on him: “The question that I have to ask myself is,” he said, “is state prison for this defendant an antidote to that poison? Is incarceration in prison the right answer for the poisoning of [the woman’s] life?”

Brock Turner has done a terrible, unconscionable, indefensible thing. His sentence — which directly contradicted what the victim wanted — feels like a travesty of justice, particularly after she went through a grueling trial in which the defense tried to tear her credibility to shreds and blame her for her own assault. This revictimization at the hands of the criminal justice system discourages millions of survivors — myself included — from coming forward.

We are right to be collectively outraged that gender-based violence is rampant, normalized, and institutionally condoned in our society. But it’s disappointing that, when confronted with even more evidence that the criminal legal system fails to provide justice, our national conversation has been largely confined to talk of reforming the existing system, as though there were no other alternatives.

That’s a real shame. As Alexandra has written extensively, we have civil law alternatives that can provide victim-centered justice.

Title IX, which is concerned with students’ ability to access education free from discrimination based on sex, is one such law. In contrast to the criminal justice system, which privileges the state’s interests over those of victims, Title IX requires that schools focus on survivors and provide them the accommodations they need to access their education, which can include suspending or expelling an assailant. Had the victim attended Stanford, she would have been entitled to a host of victim-centered remedies, including counseling, tutoring, and extensions on work due in her classes.

Despite the fact that the victim wasn’t a student, Title IX procedures were applied in the Brock Turner case, and to great effect. As soon as Stanford received notice of Turner’s violence, it conducted a prompt investigation, held a hearing to determine whether violence had occurred, and found Turner responsible for sexual misconduct. Because of the severity of his actions, Turner received the highest possible sanction: he was expelled from Stanford and banned from setting foot on campus.

But, as a non-student, the victim could find more support under a different civil law: a California statute that allows all victims of gender violence (not just students, as in the case of Title IX) to seek remedy in the wake of violence. The statute permits victims to sue their perpetrators directly for damages and injunctive relief and also requires the defendants to pay for attorney’s fees and costs, making it easier for victims to find a lawyer to take their case.

For the purposes of the law, gender violence is defined as a criminal action committed in part based on the gender of the victim and/or as a “physical invasion of a sexual nature under coercive conditions.” This remedy holds great promise for the Stanford survivor, as Turner’s violence clearly satisfies both definitions within the statute. Sexual assault, which also constitutes a criminal offense, has long been understood to be a form of violence motivated by gender. Furthermore, as the victim was incapacitated and unable to consent to sexual activity, Turner’s action constitute a physical intrusion of a sexual nature under coercive conditions. Under this statute, the victim would have until January 2018 to file a lawsuit.

In the survivor’s powerful statement, she spoke of her anger that Turner had received a “soft time­out, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women,” particularly as he refused to take responsibility for his actions. The California private right of action would offer an alternative method for conveying the seriousness of his actions, while also providing her direct compensation for the harms Turner perpetrated. As Alexandra writes, “It may seem distasteful to assign a monetary value to rape. But sometimes what a survivors [sic] most needs is the cash to pay medical bills, gain financial independence from an abuser, or even just get up and move.”

While California law provides the survivor with another remedy through which to seek justice, this option isn’t available to survivors in every state. As such, it’s time we channel our collective outrage into expanding civil law options in states across the country, building alternatives to a violent criminal justice system that fails survivors time and time again.

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Alyssa Peterson serves as a Campaign Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national survivor-run, student-driven campaign to end campus sexual violence.  

Alyssa Peterson serves as a volunteer Campaign Coordinator for Know Your IX.

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