Again and again and again I see signs of judicial ignorance and bias adversely affecting the outcome of sexual assault cases resulting in furthering the trauma that survivors are experiencing. The number of sexual assault cases where judges reduce the sentence of the offender continues to grow.
Cases in point:
The reduced sentence of Stanford’s Brock Turner has outraged many.
In New York, the 20 year old serial rapist was found guilty, but the judge gave a drastically reduced sentence of 8 years’ probation.
The most recent case, in Illinois, the judge gave a 5 month sentence to a man convicted of sexually assaulting a 16 year old, when the sentence guideline directed a minimum 4 year prison sentence. The judge cited “his desire to keep a young man with no prior criminal record out of prison.”
More and more rulings in favor of the offender supports this attitude. As usual, missing from these three cases has been any concern for the survivor.
Survivor after survivor witnesses the legal system giving more weight to the character of the offender instead of the human beings who suffer because of the behavior of the offender.
Are Judges Biased Against Victims of Sexual Assault?
Where is the concern for the victim? Behavior as it relates to the law is all that should be considered by the judge. Unfortunately, some judges, like the above examples, bring their own particular narrative into their decisions. He is a “nice young man with no record.” What does that mean? What It implies is that for this judge to be unbiased, the offender must have a record and not be nice. I am sure these types of judges have a belief of what a real survivor must be as well: virginal, dressed conservatively, with no negative pre assault behavior such as “teasing”, and definitely showing evidence of resistance.
Though none of these factors have any bearing on the behavior of the offender as it relates to the law, some judges enter the courtroom with a particular belief of what a “real” rape is and thus evaluate the case based upon their narrative of “real rape”.
The (semi) good news is that I have found over the years that most police agencies are increasingly concerned about the level of training their officers have about sexual assault, stalking, and partner violence. Survivor centered interviews, dispelling myths and false narratives, knowledge of the neurobiology of trauma relating to the critical incidents of sexual assault, understanding offender behavior and investigative strategies are all part of the education of law enforcement officers.
Do judges have the same level of concern and in fact training on the realities of sexual aggression? I would argue no as evidenced by the recent Illinois decision. If a judge is going to evaluate a case outside of the behavior of the offender as it relates to the law, the judge should show evidence of training and education on the issue to insure their own particular belief system is not affecting their decision.
Enough of judicial bias in adjudicating cases and rendering sentences that considers the offender at the expense of the person victimized. No more!
Author of No Zebras, Engaging Bystanders in the Move to End Sexual Aggression, Stephen Thompson, a university professor and Sexual Aggression Services Director, established the first university peer-to-peer advocacy program in the country.
No Zebras is the most concise and comprehensive book on the market today addressing sexual assault, stalking, harassment, domestic violence, child sexual assault and bystander education. It exposes you to the realities of sexual aggression to educate, enlighten, and engage you. Author, Stephen Thompson, a university professor and Sexual Aggression Services Director, established the first university peer-to-peer advocacy program in the country.”