Despite national outrage over a three-month prison sentence for a sexual assault, one St. Louis non-profit sees the Brock Turner case as an opportunity to educate the public and college students.
Turner, the former Stanford University swimmer, could have served 14 years after his conviction for raping an unconscious woman, but a much criticized judge’s sentence led to a six month sentence that was cut in half for good behavior.
“It's absolutely appalling that it was only three out of the six months, however it is a platform for change to start being able to happen with the awareness of what's going on,” said Jess Cowl, the Crisis and Community Outreach Manager of Safe Connections. The non-profit’s mission is to reduce the impact of relationship violence and sexual assault.
Safe Connections is using the Turner case as a teachable moment. Several local colleges are utilizing Safe Connection’s on-campus program, including Washington University, St. Louis University, Lindenwood University, and the St. Louis Community Colleges.
“We are actively in universities talking to students about healthy relationships, what consent looks and sounds like, and how to be an active bystander which in the Brock Turner case was incredibly important,” said Cowl.
Safe Connections encourages bystanders to take action.
“In this case bystanders came forward and potentially saved this woman's life,” said Cowl, referring to the people who tackled Brock Turner until police arrived to arrest him for sexual assault. “It's incredibly important that folks who are noticing something nefarious happening or even something uncomfortable in their gut that they're noticing, that they come forward and address what's happening.
That’s exactly what happened 33 years ago in St. Louis. In late July 1983, 11 year old Sur Williams was with a group of people watching the sexual assault of a teenaged female in Forest Park. Williams became a media hero after he rode his bike to the Muny to alert police of the attack.
“I might get in trouble and I might get beat up, but it’s worth it to try because she could have been badly hurt,” said Williams in 1983.
Williams appeared on Good Morning America and received a congratulatory letter from President Ronald Reagan. Newschannel 5 spoke to Williams from Richmond, Virginia, where he recalled that some people called him a snitch instead of a hero.
“There were some people who said I should not have got involved but I knew that I had done the right thing,” said Williams.
To learn more about Safe Connections, visit their website.