Lynbrook was right to fire Persky, the judge who was recalled as a result of the Brock Turner case

October 9, 2019 — by Nitya Marimuthu and Esther Luan

On March 30, 2016, judge Aaron Persky sentenced Stanford athlete Brock Turner to an astonishing six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious 22-year-old woman. Despite two witnesses and a suggested sentence of six years in jail for the crime, Turner served only three months before getting let out on parole. Two years later, on June 5, 2018, Persky was recalled by incensed voters. 

In early September, more than three years after the incident and a year after Persky lost his job, he was hired as a JV tennis coach at Lynbrook High School. 

Following initial community outrage, Lynbrook administrators at first justified their decision to hire Persky, stating in a press release that the former judge was a “highly qualified applicant, having attended several tennis coaching clinics for youth and holds a high rating from the United States Tennis Association.” Lynbrook also emphasized its previous unawareness of Persky’s involvement in Turner’s case, stating that they had only found out the week before. (Never mind the appalling ignorance this shows of important current events.)

Within a week, Perksy was fired by the Fremont Union High School District in an effort to maintain an “effective, safe and positive environment for all students,” the school district said in a public statement.

This decision brings up the question of whether a person can be separated from their past actions and reputation. In most cases, we would strive to separate someone’s history from their current actions, but this is not universal. Like most moral dilemmas, it is a mistake to create a single rule that can be followed in every case.

Persky’s case proves to be one of the unique ones. Not only did he not commit the crime himself, but sexual assault proves to be a much more subjectively defined subject. Since there is usually no solid evidence to a sexual assault crime other than eyewitness and victim testimonies, it is much more influenced by the values of the judge and the justice system. 

That being said, should Persky’s past actions affect his future, especially when he did not commit a crime?

The difficulty with answering this question lies in the implications that forgiving Persky’s past would entail. While it is compelling to forgive Persky and follow the standard forgiveness procedure, the repercussions are too great to let him off the hook without making a statement about his past actions. 

Sexual assault is one of the most underprosecuted, and consequently, underreported crimes. According to RAINN, out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 230 will be reported, and 995 out of the 1,000 perpetrators will walk free. 

Persky’s decision as a judge plays a large part in the continued stigmatization against reporting sexual assaults. By giving Turner a light sentence, he set forward a precedent  for the treatment of sexual assault cases by apathetically handling a serious crime. 

Persky might not have committed a crime himself, but he let an evident offendent off with a light sentence, showing that he did not weigh Turner’s actions as criminal enough for a larger sentence. 

After facing backlash for his light sentence, Persky justified his ruling by saying that a longer “prison sentence would have a severe impact on [Turner]. I think he will not be a danger to others."

Persky’s light sentence affected more than just the victim of the crime, whose life had been torn to shreds by Turner; his sentence added to the already extensive stigma associated with reporting sexual assault in colleges. 

If Persky is hired as a high school coach after making such a detrimental error to the system of judging sexual assault, what does that say about the “crime” of sexual assault? If Persky does not face consequences, who is to say that the next judge making an egregious decision will? At the end of the day, Fremont Union High School District’s decision to fire Persky made a statement about the importance of valuing sexual assault victims.

Although we try to forgive and forget, a person’s past has to be taken into account in all hiring decisions. Given the significant consequences of his appalling judgment, Persky’s past actions should affect his future. He may deserve a second chance among his friends and family, but not as a high school tennis coach.

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