We don’t know her name. And honestly, we don’t have a right to. But the victim in the Brock Turner case is a hero. She spoke out against a tarnished part of our legal system that happens every day, all across the country. This rapist isn’t special, but she is.
I am a lawyer, and for 5 years, I practiced criminal defense. And let me tell you, nothing much about the Brock Turner case is all that special, except the victim.
His lawyer knew he guilty going in
When Brock Turner (or more likely his father) showed up in his defense attorney’s office the first time, that attorney probably knew he had committed the crime. Over the 5 years I took those cases, most of my clients admitted their guilt to me in the initial consultation. A few others claimed not to be able to remember what happened. Very few were actually innocent of the crime accused.
His attorney did his job
Even if Brock Turner’s attorney knew he was guilty, it was that attorney’s job to zealously defend Brock, using any defenses that presented themselves. Criminal sexual conduct crimes (that is, rape) are premised on the lack of consent. So when a victim has no memory of the incident, a good criminal defense attorney will take advantage of that to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury.
Rape Trials Always Involve Victim-Blaming
Rape culture is a real thing. Any time consent is at issue, victim-blaming comes with it. As a society, we haven’t fully accepted that only yes means yes. So when there is any question about whether a sexual assault victim may have been willing, we ask all the wrong questions. Every time.
Supportive Parents Go Too Far
Brock Turner’s father has gotten a lot of flack on social media for his support of his son. He is called insensitive and said to have missed the point when he told the court:
“That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life. The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations.”
But Mr. Turner is having to come to grips with having a son who would do something like this to a young woman. He is mourning the loss of the future he imagined for his son. And when a person in that state is asked to speak to a judge, he often goes too far in trying to paint his child in a good light.
Dan Turner’s letter certainly overlooks the tragic harm done to his son’s victim. It definitely downplays what his son did. But it must be taken in context. This letter was intended to make Brock look good in efforts to get a lighter sentence.
Judges Make Bad Calls
In Michigan, and it seems in California too, there are set sentencing recommendations based on what crime was committed, the defendant’s history, and the circumstances in the case. But in this case, Judge Aaron Persky decided to deviate from the recommendation (remember, the prosecutor asked for a sentence of 6 years). His reasoning does raise questions of bias, entitlement, and class-ism. It has also resulted in petitions to remove the judge from the bench.
But one bad sentence shouldn’t result in firing. It should result in an appeal. A higher court can overturn the sentence and send a corrective message to the judge about the severity of the offense and the need to consider more than just the effect of jail on the defendant. Unless this judge has a history of racially discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate sentences, the Turner case shouldn’t end his career.
The Victim Made This Case Special
With all that went as expected in the Brock Turner case, it shouldn’t be the news phenomenon it is. What makes this case special isn’t the defendant, his family, his attorney, or the judge. Sadly, even the charges are common.
What makes this case newsworthy is a victim who was willing to stand up, look her rapist in the eye, and give voice to the thousands of sexual assault victims all across the country. It is her statement that makes this case newsworthy. She is the star of this story. It is her courage and grace that has raised this case, and rape culture more generally to public consciousness. And for that I say, “Bravo!”
I no longer take criminal cases. One of the many reasons is that I don’t want to be the attorney that goes to bat for guilty, non-remorseful defendants anymore. I don’t want to fight for people who won’t learn from the lessons the court is teaching them. I don’t want to represent the next Brock Turner.
Instead, I now focus that energy on the victims. I work with HAVEN and other domestic violence clinics to help victims escape their abusers and protect themselves in court through divorce, custody, and personal protection actions. I represent women, and men, who don’t have the voice this victim does. I help them step out of their cages and into new life. In that small way, I add my voice to this brave victim and call out “enough” to domestic violence and sexual assault.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family law attorney at Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. If you are facing a difficult family law situation, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a free consultation.
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