These two incest cases show drastic differences in sentencing state to state

Rape culture is totally systemic and built into the system, but it’s not an organized system. It’s often intangible and confusing. When you compare rape and incest sentencing state by state, like the recent 60-day sentencing of a Montana man for raping his 12-year-old daughter and the 1,503 years given to a California man for doing pretty much the same thing, the drastic differences in how states handle rape and incest are obvious.

When it comes to crime and punishment, every state gets to handle things as they wish. It’s a little crazy. Not only do states get to decide the minimum and maximum sentences for rapists, they also choose how they define rape. In fact, most states have taken the word “rape” off the books entirely and have various charges for sexual assault. That’s why the media couldn’t refer to Brock Turner as a rapist — he was only convicted for sexual assault because he didn’t penetrate his victim with his penis, and in California, rape is specifically defined as “an act of sexual intercourse” without consent. All of the various levels of assault and rape charges come with different sentencing requirements. It’s a mess.

In the Montana case, prosecutors asked for the mandatory 25-year sentence, which comes out of a 100-year sentence with 75 years suspended. Instead, Judge John McKeon gave the man a 30-year suspended sentence, which meant he would only serve 60 days in jail as long as he didn’t violate the terms of his probation (registering as a sex offender and getting counseling.)

The man (unnamed to protect the identity of his victim) basically went free. This happens all the time in Montana because of the exceptions written into the law and the power given to the sentencing judge.

In California this week though, a Fresno County man (unnamed for the same reason) received 1,503 years in prison for repeatedly raping his 16-year-old daughter over a four-year period. He was convicted on 186 counts of felony sexual assault and Judge Edward Sarkisian Jr. called him a “serious danger to society.” The man reportedly blamed his daughter for his crimes, which is almost sicker than a man spending just 60 days in prison for raping his daughter.

The differences are so stark. At the Montana trial, the man’s mother and wife testified that he had sons who would miss him dearly and that they would support his treatment, and Judge McKeon believed them. In Fresno, the victim, now 23, spoke at the sentencing and said, “When my father abused me, I was young. I had no power, no voice. I was defenseless.” Judge Sarkisian called her a “courageous young woman,” according to the Fresno Bee, as he tossed the father into a cell until the planet disintegrates (I’m just assuming that will be around 1,500 years from now).

It’s crazy to think that the fate of predators and justice for victims depends so heavily on what state they live in. Of course, sentencing also depends on what a DA and judge think is a fair punishment. Judge Aaron Persky of California handing Turner such a light sentence highlights both these issues. Turner didn’t face the same or as many charges as the father from Fresno, but a state law allowed Judge Persky to give such a ridiculously light sentence. That law has since been changed, but it’s a slow process. And recalling a judge is harder to do than it sounds.

That’s why it’s so important for people to pay attention not just to their state representatives, but also elections for judges and district attorneys. A state may recommend a life sentence for rape, but it’s really the prosecutors and the judges who make the call about what kind of prison time awaits a defendant, since they’re the ones who ask for and decide the amount of time a rapist will spend in jail.

What to do, right? Make sure you vote for judges and DAs who support stricter sentencing and state senators and representatives who will amend state laws. Technically, it’s totally legal for a rapist to spend just a few weeks in jail in some states. That has to change.

Tags: rape culture