Survivors of sexual assault gathered yesterday on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco to protest the verdict in a high-profile rape case involving Brock Turner, a student athlete from Stanford. The California Commission on Judicial Performance was meeting Wednesday to review the misconduct cases of state judges for the first time since Judge Persky decided in that case to hand down a six-month sentence to Turner after prosecutors had recommended six years for his three felony accounts of sexual assault.
Persky’s decision to hand down what many saw as an inadequate sentence for Turner’s crime immediately inspired protest earlier this month. The judge came up for re-election on June 7, and initially protestors called for voters to oust him from his seat–but as no one ran against him, the election was cancelled. UltraViolet, the social justice organization that led the rally yesterday, also launched a petition to remove him from the bench, which gathered 1.2 million signatures and likely played a hand in his being recently removed from another sexual assault case last week.
“His victory will be short-lived,” said Michele Dauber, a Stanford University law professor leading the campaign to remove Persky from the bench, told USA Today. “I am 100% confident we will recall him. His decision hit every woman in the state of California in the gut.”
Survivors rallied together yesterday to share their own stories and to deliver the petition to the commissioners. Protesters holding signs that read “Remove Judge Persky” and “I Stand with Survivors of Sexual Assault” clustered around the building’s door as one by one, nearly a dozen women and men told their stories of surviving rape. The rally was a tribute to the power of joined voices: many attended in person to support those who spoke, while hundreds of others watched live streams of the event and offered virtually their own messages of strength and solidarity. “We in all humility are going to speak for [the unidentified victim], we are going to be her voice,” survivor April Grant promised. And ever since the Stanford victim found her own in her powerful statement to her assaulter, the voices of people across the world have been steadily rising to a crescendo.
“I’m upset about this case because it’s normalizing rape. People aren’t understanding that this is a problem,” Rachel Graff of San Diego—who held a sign that read “Judge Persky should know the pain lasts forever.”—said to the crowd. “It’s not this generation, it’s not the next generation. It’s been happening, and it’s going to continue to happen if we don’t take a stand. Judge Persky has a responsibility to the people to say that rape is wrong. It’s not three months, it’s not six months, it’s not two years, twelve years—it’s a lifetime of pain that you will go through. And I really sincerely hope that we can hold him accountable and hold Brock Turner accountable for what he made a poor student go through.”
Activists also remarked that the Turner case highlighted not only how our culture excuses rape but also how Turner’s status as a wealthy, white athlete played into the decision. “We need to look at what’s fair,” Tes Welborn said at the rally. “It’s not right that a black man can get twenty-five years or so for rape and a white man can get six months. We need to have equal justice and protection for all victims of rape.” Her statement harkens back to Judge Persky’s sentencing this week of a Latino man to three years in jail for a comparable offense to Turner’s.
Many of the stories told yesterday revealed injustices in the system even beyond what they had come to protest. “Because I am disabled,” Jacqueline Patterson revealed, “because I stutter, I did not receive any victim services because they kept hanging up on me when I tried to call.” According to another protestor, the police “didn’t know how to handle an LGBT assault case,” adding that “the system didn’t help me, and it failed Brock Turner’s victim.”
17-year-old Ruby Elson pointed to injustices in the administration at her high school when she spoke to reporters. “I have known too many women who have been raped,” she said, “and my high school has refused to do anything. A friend of mine was raped by her classmate. She asked the administration multiple times–please let me learn, give me my education, I cannot be in the same class as this guy. They refused.”
Even as they related the many ways that the judicial system had betrayed them in the past, the survivors stood in front of the judicial offices in the hope of, for once, a different outcome. In the movement to remove a judge considered unfit to provide justice to survivors of sexual assault, those who spoke at the rally–as well as the 1.2 million people who signed that petition, and the hundreds of thousands who have signed others–stand witness to and part of an active movement declaring that they will no longer silently endure a system that prioritizes the well-being of perpetrators over that of their victims.
Melissa Byrne, who led the rally, had the last word. “We hope that the commission heard their voices, the voices of the survivors who were up here,” she said before the activists moved into the hearing, “and they read the stories and they read the names that are on the petition, and they do what’s right, because until they do what’s right, we’re not forgetting this. We will keep fighting for all of the survivors.”
The petition to remove Judge Turner can be found here. UltraViolet is also seeking signatures for its own petition. To answer Dauber’s request for donations to assist in her efforts to recall Judge Persky, visit http://www.recallaaronpersky.com/.