Kristen Harrell

Turner case prompts calls for consent discussions

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Brock Turner received “extensive education and training on sexual violence” during his first year at Stanford University, but advocates and Ohio’s attorney general say consent needs to be part of family discussions and school curriculum before students advance to higher education.

Turner’s case illustrates the difficulty prosecutors face in cases where the victim party cannot give consent due to intoxication or unconsciousness. It also raises new awareness about having age-appropriate conversations about consent.

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“I’m a bit taken aback and appalled that in the last 25 years there’s not been enough progress in helping deal with the problems of sexual assault on campuses,” said Oakwood psychologist Kirsten Harrell, who said she survived a sexual assault she chose not to report at the University of Dayton three decades ago.

She added, “There’s this bigger issue that we’re not teaching young kids, boys and girls, the importance of and the sanctity of their own body.”

Turner was convicted of penetration of an intoxicated person, intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, and penetration of an unconscious person. The assault involving digital penetration occurred early Jan. 18, 2015. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to six months in jail earlier this month.

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Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said “people have to understand an intoxicated woman cannot give consent.”

“There has to be a discussion about consent, that an intoxicated person cannot give consent,” DeWine said. “Not only does it need to be discussed in schools, it needs to be discussed in homes.”

Unlike other subjects with statewide standards, each district in Ohio sets its own standard for sex education.

Curriculum standards for Oakwood City Schools, where Turner grew up and graduated high school, show fifth-grade students are taught to “identify inappropriate touching and sexual abuse” and “be aware of social pressure and the right to say ‘no.’ ”

In junior high, students are taught “the importance of assuming responsibility for personal health behaviors” and how to “distinguish between safe and risky or harmful behaviors in relationships.” The high school curriculum does not directly teach “consent” by name. Instead, classes “discuss refusal, negotiation, and collaboration skills to avoid potentially harmful situations.”

District officials will review and audit the curriculum this year in accordance with a schedule set before Turner’s case.

“We are keenly aware that there are lessons to be learned by all of us — our school, community, parents, and children,” Superintendent Kyle Ramey wrote in an email to Oakwood parents following Turner’s sentencing. He added, “As we reflect on the great things we do to educate our students and to provide them with tools to make good decisions, our priorities remain the safety and well being of our students.”

Turner’s formal education about human sexual behavior extended beyond Oakwood, documents released in his court file show.

Turner and other incoming Stanford students completed an online training program on consent, alcohol usage and sexual abuse, according to a letter signed by more than 200 of his Stanford peers asking Persky to sentence Turner to “at least 2 years as stated in the statutes he was charged and convicted under.”

Additionally, he and all other new students were “required to listen to hours of speeches on the importance of acquiring consent and not engaging in sexual activities when alcohol is involved or the other person is unconscious and unable to give consent.”

Although the victim does not remember the assault, Turner maintains his interaction with her was consensual. In an email to his attorney sent days after the incident, Turner stated the victim offered three affirmative responses to his advances.

His defense wrote in a sentencing memo to the judge, “No one other than Mr. Turner can state with any certainty whether the victim was unconscious or not when the digital penetration occurred.”

Turner’s court file shows he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.13 percent the night of the assault, above California’s 0.08 percent legal intoxication limit. A back extrapolation on the victim’s blood-alcohol level placed it at approximately 0.22 percent at the time of the assault — “almost three times the legal limit.”

The victim’s response to Turner’s claims — detailed in her now-widely read victim impact statement — rejects the defendant’s position that the encounter was consensual.

“Future reference,” she wrote, “if you are confused about whether a girl can consent, see if she can speak an entire sentence. You couldn’t even do that. Just one coherent string of words. If she can’t do that, then no.”

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