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In a Surprise Move, Feminists Defending the Rights of the Convicted in California

By Avens O’Brien

In August, the state legislature of California passed a bill to approve imposing mandatory minimums in sexual assault cases. This bill came about after the surprisingly short six-month sentence of Brock Turner for three counts of felony sexual assault (he was let out after three months for good behavior).

The bill is now awaiting California Governor Jerry Brown’s signature to become law – but there has been a considerable amount of backlash from a group one would generally expect to see in favor of harsher penalties: feminists.

A coalition of 25 feminist organizations have submitted a letter to Governor Brown, urging a veto.

From their letter:

As student survivors of gender violence and their allies, we respectfully request that you veto AB 2888, which would institute a mandatory minimum sentence for any defendant found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious or intoxicated person.

We know firsthand that the consequences of rape are no less damaging for a victim who is unconscious than for a victim who is not. We also know that mandatory minimum-term laws are a harmful, mistaken solution to our rightful anger over the Brock Turner case and the many others like it.

Over the latter half of the 20th century, mandatory minimum laws have led to overly punitive sentencing and prison overcrowding. While some support this legislation in hopes that it will address racial biases in sentencing that worked in Turner’s favor, mandatory minimums have in fact exacerbated racial and class disparities in prosecution. Further, mandatory minimums can deter victims—the vast majority of whom were assaulted by a friend, partner, or family member—from reporting an assault and seeking resources. When survivors do come forward, mandatory minimums deter prosecutors from pressing charges against particular defendants—namely those who, like Turner, are white and wealthy—and make juries less likely to convict. Furthermore, mandatory minimum laws have failed to reduce assault. (Indeed, studies show that the severity of sanction does not deter violence.)

Groups that signed the letter include Know Your IX, ACT for Women & Girls, Campus Assault Reponse (James Madison University), FIRSST (Goshen College), National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Social Justice Club (University of Wisconsin), URGE, UltraViolet, and many others.

President of Brooklyn College, Michelle Anderson, stated “I oppose the legislation,” and “I hope he [Governor Jerry Brown] does veto it….I think we have a history in this country of overreacting and overusing the criminal justice system. Feminists have been saying for years that mandatory punishments are not the right response to sexual violence.”

As a California resident, feminist activist, and opponent of the terrible way our criminal (in)justice system has been used to abuse our citizens, I have written to Governor Brown urging him to veto this bill. His contact information can be found here.

On top of this letter, several others have come out against CA’s AB 2888:

It’s encouraging to see so many standing up to this. Hopefully Governor Brown will too.

  • ioconnor

    Wow! A measured, nuanced, thoughtful response. It will be interesting to see if Governor Brown does veto the bill as he should. Or whether he continues to do stupid.

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