An open letter to the Honorable Aaron Persky

June 7, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

I am an academic who has spent a career studying the effects of trauma. In light of your recent ruling, please take a moment to read my professional perspective on sexual trauma. It is my hope that this will give you better understanding on the impact on survivors of sexual assault, so that these harms can be appropriately weighed in sentencing a perpetrator. The scientific literature has established that trauma impacts multiple bodily systems, leading to higher rates of morbidity and mortality as well as diminished social, vocational and economic functioning. Sexual assault is more likely than any other type of trauma to have negative psychological effects on the victim. It leads to high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, mood and anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and suicide; such mental health problems frequently persist for years. Trauma’s impact on physical health ranges from alterations in brain structure and function to heightened risk of multiple chronic medical conditions to changes at the cellular level that accelerate the aging process. Further, it is well established that trauma has intergenerational effects, leading to increased risk of adverse emotional and behavioral outcomes across the lifespan for the offspring of survivors, particularly female survivors. While what I am describing are averages and cannot predict the experience of any individual, I believe that it is a universally severe impact.

I am aware that in the recent sentencing of Brock Turner you elected leniency, citing your concern for the “severe impact” on him. In the future, please consider the severe impact of trauma on the survivors and their family in your sentencing. I am not suggesting vindictiveness. Treat the perpetrator in such a way as to deter that individual and others from committing such abhorrent acts. Support efforts at restitution, education and healing. But, please, do not minimize the impact of trauma in an effort to spare a convicted perpetrator.

Ariel J. Lang, Ph.D., MPH

Class of 1991

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