BOULDER, COLORADO, UNITED STATES - 2016/07/13: Macky Auditorium, University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
John Greim—LightRocket/Getty Images
August 12, 2016 12:57 PM EDT

Austin James Wilkerson, a former University of Colorado student, was sentenced Wednesday to two years in jail on work release and 20 years of probation after being convicted of two counts of sexual assault. He must also register as a sex offender.

Prosecutors said Wilkerson assaulted the victim, who he encountered intoxicated at a party, after telling her friends that he would take care of her. He had told university investigators that he had come onto her earlier but she rejected him. He said that he felt “pissed off.” At trial, as reported by CNN, he testified that the encounter was consensual. By the hearing, Wilkerson admitted to his actions and apologized to the victim. “Nothing I say can make it better, but I am so sorry.”

Judge Patrick Butler told local paper Daily Camera that he “struggled” with the idea of putting Wilkerson in prison. “Mr. Wilkerson deserves to be punished, but I think we all need to find out whether he truly can or cannot be rehabilitated.” The sentence he handed down was milder than the prosecution’s request for four to 20 years prison time.

The prosecution is objecting to what some view as a lenient sentence. “There’s an expectation out in the community that the criminal justice system protects its citizens,” said Deputy District Attorney Caryn Datz.

The case echoes that of former Stanford student Brock Turner. Turner, who assaulted an intoxicated woman at a party, was convicted on three counts of sexual assault yet only was sentenced to six months in county jail because the judge felt any longer of a sentence would have a “severe” impact on him. The sentencing brought to national attention issues of victim shaming and privilege, and a petition was started to remove Judge Aaron Persky from office. Many felt that Turner was given a lenient sentence due to his status as a swimmer at an elite university.

Wilkerson’s victim, who was a freshman at the time of the rape, spoke at the hearing about the impact of the incident on her life. “Some days I can’t even get out of bed,” she said, describing her nightmares and panic attacks. “Worst of all is the victim blaming,” she said. “‘If I hadn’t been drunk, this wouldn’t have happened. If I hadn’t gotten separated, this wouldn’t have happened.’ Yet it was excusable for him to rape me because he was drunk?”

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