California judge Aaron Persky is currently facing heavy criticism — including a petition to oust him from his job — after handing a lenient six-month jail sentence to Brock Turner, the 20-year-old Stanford swimmer who was convicted of three felony sexual-assault charges. Particularly drawing ire are Persky’s comments that he believed “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on [Turner]. I think he will not be a danger to others.”
In an article about Persky published by the Mercury News on Monday, Tracey Kaplan writes that this isn’t the first controversial sexual-assault case the judge has presided over, pointing to Persky’s involvement with a 2011 gang-rape trial.
In 2007, a 17-year-old girl alleged that she was gang-raped by at least nine members of the De Anza College basketball team at a house party while she was severely intoxicated. Three soccer players discovered the rape in progress and broke it up; they said they discovered her unconscious and covered in vomit, and called it “clearly not consensual.” District Attorney Dolores Carr ultimately decided not to move forward with the case, which was met with criticism and protests at the time.
In 2011, the case was brought to civil trial and the victim sued for $7.5 million in damages. Judge Persky presided, and, according to a Mercury News court report from the trial, one of his evidentiary rulings was as follows:
Judge Aaron Persky ruled before lunch that Knopf can show the jury seven photos of the woman, whom the court is calling Jane Doe, partying about a year or so after the alleged gang rape. In the photos, she is scantily clad, wearing a garter belt and what appear to be fishnet stockings.
In one picture, a boy appears to be straddling her as she lies on a bed in what looks like a dorm room. Everyone in the photos is smiling and playing around, enjoying themselves. [Defendant Christopher] Knopf’s lawyer says the photos are a “direct contradiction” of plaintiff’s claim that she is socially isolated and socially reticent.
As it so often happens in sexual-assault cases, especially when alcohol is involved, the perception of the victim influences how juries convict accused rapists. Allowing photos in the courtroom in which the victim is “scantily clad” unfortunately plays into the bogus yet age-old argument that a woman who’s dressed provocatively is “asking for it.”