And they didn’t stop there. Other women started petitions asking Texas District Court Judge Ralph Strother, who accepted Jacob Anderson’s plea deal, to reconsider his decision. They have gathered 127,000 signatures since October.
Still others—mindful of the fate of the judge in the case of Stanford student Brock Turner—have called on Strother to resign in a petition that has racked up more than 67,00 signatures in a few weeks.
“Frankly we were shocked,” said Mary Duty, a Baylor alum who lives in Waco and is leader of the McLennan County Democratic Party. “I’m sitting here thinking, ‘If I could get 5,000 names [total,] wouldn’t that be amazing?’ And it was 5,000 names by the next day.”
Anderson was indicted in 2016 on four charges of sexual assault after another Baylor student accused him of raping her outside a fraternity party earlier that year.
The woman, whose name has not been released, told police she was served a drink at the party that made her “disoriented and very confused.” She claimed Anderson led her to a secluded area outside the party to get air, then forced to the ground and orally and vaginally raped her. The woman told officers she lost consciousness during the encounter and awoke alone, lying in her own vomit, according to a police affidavit.
After a grand jury charged Anderson, Baylor expelled him and suspended his fraternity from campus. But in October, to the surprise of the victim and her family, prosecutors announced they had struck a deal allowing him to plead no contest to a single charge of unlawful restraint.
When the plea deal was announced in October, local activists started a petition urging State District Judge Ralph Strother not to accept it. When the judge stopped answering their emails and phone calls about the case, activists told The Daily Beast, they staged a letter-writing campaign to him instead.
Strother accepted the deal this month and sentenced Anderson to counseling, a $400 fine, and three years deferred probation. Anderson will not have to register as a sex offender and his criminal record will be expunged if he completes probation.
The victim told Strother she was “devastated” by his decision, and her family accused the district attorney of misleading them and stringing them along for two and a half years of “hell.”
"[Anderson] stole my body, virginity and power over my body and you let him keep it for all eternity," the victim said in an impact statement. "He is now free to roam society, stalk women and no one will know he is a sex offender."
Anderson’s attorneys later said the woman’s statement was “riddled with distortions and misrepresentations” and claimed she and Anderson were seen “kissing passionately” during the party and that there was no evidence she had been drugged.
To many, the outcome echoed the case of Turner, the former Stanford student convicted of sexual assault in 2016 and sentenced to just six months in prison. A petition demanding the resignation of the judge in that case, Aaron Persky, led to a successful recall measure being placed on the a county ballot and his removal from the bench.
Texas does not have judicial recall elections. And Strother, who must retire in 2020, told local CBS affiliate KWTX he didn’t plan to go anywhere before then.
Another key difference: In the Turner case, prosecutors slammed the judge for the light sentence; but in the Anderson matter, District Attorney Hillary LaBorde defended Strother in a statement, calling his decision “the best outcome given the facts of this case.” She argued that conflicting evidence and statements made the woman’s allegation “difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Gov. Greg Abbott, one of the few people with the power to remove Strother, did not respond to a request for comment.
Duty told The Daily Beast she doubted Strother would reconsider the sentence or step down, but wants to show the victim that there were others who supported her.
A Baylor graduate herself, Duty said she was raped while attending the school in the 1970s. She hoped to draw attention to the culture at the school, which has been shaken in recent years by a sexual assault scandal involving the football team.
Erin Albin, a graduate student at Baylor who assisted in the petition, said the national response to the campaign had been overwhelmingly positive. She said she received dozens of messages from women around the country, thanking her for her activism and sharing their own stories of sexual assault.
“It’s been interesting because as divided as things are, the response that I’ve gotten has been the same across the board—It doesn’t matter if you are a hard core Democrat or hardcore Republican,” she said.
According to Duty, however, the women’s activism has drummed up a bit of controversy in the 136,000-person town of Waco, where Baylor is one of the top employers.
“People in town keep talking about a mob mentality around this case,” she said. “I suppose if this is what it takes for me to be in a mob, I am very proud to be in a mob.”