In less than a week, 11 million people shared the statement that sexual-assault survivor Emily Doe read to Brock Turner in court. You probably did. I did, scrolling through it at work on an almost-summer afternoon, realizing only after a few minutes that I was digging my nails into my palms. Doe described her violation, how she was attacked while unconscious behind a Stanford University Dumpster, how she woke up in a hospital, looking for her underwear, how nurses measured the abrasions on arms and legs and a torso that didn't felt like hers anymore. She recounted how the humiliation persisted after the attack, after the physical exam, after she went home. Turner, vouched for by teammates on the swim team and his parents, hired an expensive team of experts to discredit her. He claimed his innocence, despite all the evidence. He insisted she "liked it."
Turner was sentenced to six months in jail and probation by Judge Aaron Persky, who worried that a harsher punishment would have "a severe impact on him."*
Watching the proceedings, Stanford Law professor Michele Dauber seethed. Dauber has known Doe since she was a kid and been invested in issues of campus sexual assault and prevention for most of her career. She dug into Persky's record, finding that this lax verdict fit a pattern of lenient sentences for young men convicted of violence and assault. And she decided to act. Dauber launched a recall movement that, if successful, will force Persky to face reelection this coming November and ideally remove him from the bench. The initiative has organized fund-raisers in Brooklyn today, March 3, and in Los Angeles on March 4 to raise money for the race. And in the midst of all that, Dauber found time to discuss judicial recalls, the epidemic of campus sexual assault, and how one work of political literature can change the world.
Mattie Kahn: How did you first get involved with this case?
Michele Dauber: I was in court when the sentence was delivered and had actually, at the request of the prosecution, written a letter to the judge pre-sentencing, talking about the environment at Stanford and the need for a deterrent for impact. When judges impose sentences in criminal cases, there is a series of factors that they are supposed to consider under the law. One of those is the rehabilitation of the defendant. One of those is the need for justice for the victim. [And one of those] is deterrence. Will the sentence adequately deter both this defendant and others from committing similar crimes in the future?
I wrote a letter suggesting that the judge impose the two-year minimum sentence, which I felt balanced the factors appropriately and would take into account the fact that we need to deter similar crimes, which are occurring all the time with alarming frequency on our campus. We need to send a clear and direct message to students on our campus and on other campuses around the state that these actions are serious felonies, and serious felonies mean that you go to prison.
MK: And you have a connection to the victim as well, yes?*
MD: Yes. She is a friend of my daughter from way back, elementary and secondary school.
MK: We should never have to know a victim to be horrified for her, but the effect of Emily Doe's letter was that her case got worldwide attention. Did the response that it provoked surprise you at all?
MD: Well, yes, to some extent. I mean, I read the statement just immediately before it was filed. I thought it was breathtaking. She said to me, you know, "What do you think?" I was like, "If I tried to even make a suggestion about this, it would be like touching up the Mona Lisa." I said, "I wouldn't change a word."