Former Stanford swimmer blames ‘party culture and risk-taking behavior’ for sex assault

Veronica Rocha,
Los Angeles Times

A former Stanford University swimmer who was sentenced to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus has blamed a “party culture and risk-taking behavior” for his actions.

In a letter he penned to Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, Brock Turner wrote that he was shattered by “the party culture and risk-taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school.”

Turner said he came from a small town in Ohio and never experienced partying that involved alcohol. But when he started attending Stanford, Turner wrote, he began drinking to relieve the stress of school and competitive swimming.

“The swim team set no limits on partying or drinking and I saw the guys take full advantage of these circumstances, while I was shown to do the same,” he wrote. “I witnessed countless times the guys that I looked up to go to parties, meet girls and take the girl that they had just met back with them.”

Describing himself as an “inexperienced drinker and party-goer,” Turner said he looked up to members of his swim team. On Jan. 17, 2015, the night of the sexual assault, Turner said he drank five beers, two “swigs” of Fireball whiskey and bounced from one party to another.

“I want to demolish the assumption that drinking and partying are what make up a college lifestyle,” he wrote.

“I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone. But I never meant to intentionally hurt (the victim). My poor decision making and excessive drinking hurt someone that night and I wish I could just take it all back.”

Turner vowed to “change people’s attitudes towards the culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity that protrudes through what people think is at the core of being a college student.” A jury convicted Turner in March for sexually assaulting the woman, and he was facing a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

At the time, prosecutors asked Persky to sentence him to a six-year prison term for the three felony counts he was found guilty of: assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person, sexual penetration of an unconscious person and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person.

When Persky instead sentenced Turner last week to six months in county jail and three years’ probation, the decision sparked outrage. Critics argued the sentence was too lenient and launched a campaign to recall Persky from the bench.

Turner’s victim read a 12-page letter in open court, called the more lenient sentence “a soft timeout, a mockery of the seriousness of the assaults.” She said Turner had failed to show responsibility.

She wrote: “Unfortunately, after reading the defendant’s statement, I am severely disappointed and feel that he has failed to exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct. I fully respected his right to a trial, but even after 12 jurors unanimously convicted him guilty of three felonies, all he has admitted to doing is ingesting alcohol. Someone who cannot take full accountability for his actions does not deserve a mitigating sentence. It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of promiscuity. By definition rape is the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction.”