SAN FRANCISCO — Brock Turner began his short-lived career as a swimmer at Stanford University two years ago amid renewed efforts by the prestigious California school and other U.S. colleges to prevent campus sexual assaults.
Stanford required new students to complete online training over the summer that covered topics such as acquiring affirmative consent for sex and the need for bystanders to intervene. A video featuring student-athletes talking about the issue was screened for freshmen attending campus orientation sessions, where students also heard the provost pledge that perpetrators would be held accountable and received brochures informing them or their rights and responsibilities as members of the Cardinal community.
Four months later, Stanford police arrested Turner for assaulting a woman he’d encountered at a fraternity party. Two graduate students confronted the freshman as he attacked the unconscious victim by a garbage bin, then chased him down and held him until officers arrived.
Turner agreed to withdraw from Stanford rather than go through expulsion proceedings.
From Stanford’s perspective, the system worked as well as it could have. The university issued a statement this week praising the graduate students who intervened and saying the university “did everything within its power to ensure justice was served,” including banning Turner from campus for life and offering support services to the victim even though she was not a Stanford student.
“What the case highlighted was the importance of our training and prevention efforts, and those are continuing, particularly in terms of bystander intervention _ ‘If you see something, do something about it’ _ and this case has been an excellent example for all of our students,” campus spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said Tuesday.
A judge sentenced the 20-year-old Turner to six months in jail, three years of probation and ordered him to register as a sex offender following his conviction on felony assault and attempted rape charges. Now, with outrage brewing over the sentence length, the case has sparked more questions about the effectiveness of campus prevention efforts and what are a university’s obligations when those efforts fail.
Some Stanford faculty and students remain unimpressed with the university’s handling of sexual assaults and its response to the Turner case.
The Association of Students for Sexual Assault Prevention, a Stanford student group that staged protests and a teach-in for parents, started an online petition calling on the school to publicly apologize to the victim, devote more money to prevention and survivor counselling programs, and to undertake an independent survey of how prevalent sexual assaults are among campus fraternities.
Stephanie Pham, who co-founded the group and just completed her second year at Stanford, called the university’s statement about its role in seeking justice for the victim “cold” and said it “lacked sympathy for the survivor in any way.”
“Sure, there were bystanders that stopped the rape from proceeding and sure, they took whatever required steps afterward,” Pham said. “However, Stanford utilized its statement to defend its brand and defend its image.”
Lapin said Stanford welcomes the student efforts to educate their classmates, but said the online petition unfairly suggests the university shares blame for the length of Turner’s sentence.
After the January 2015 attack, the university was delayed in its attempts to reach the victim because she initially withheld permission for campus police to share her name with administrators and staff members who work with assault survivors, Lapin said.
“There is a certain point where the university doesn’t have the authority. So we did a thorough investigation, we presented considerable evidence to the county for prosecution and it was a successful prosecution,” she said.
Turner’s sentence sparked anger from critics who say Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky was too lenient on a privileged athlete from his alma mater.
The prosecutor had argued for a six-year term for crimes that could have sent Turner to prison for 10 years.
The case gained national attention after prosecutors released a poignant statement from the 23-year-old victim that she read in court. The emotional statement by the victim described how the attack left her emotionally scarred.
“My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self-deprecating, tired, irritable, empty,” she said.
The Associated Press does not generally identify victims of sexual abuse or assault.
Criticism intensified when a letter from Turner’s father to the judge was released, in which he pleaded for leniency and said his son had already paid a steep price for “20 minutes of action.”
An online backlash against Turner’s friend Leslie Rasmussen, whose letter of support for the former Stanford student was made public on Monday, led to the cancellation of several shows her band was scheduled to perform in New York City this week.
Several venues in Brooklyn said on social media they had cancelled appearances by Good English, an Indie band from Oakwood, Ohio formed by Rasmussen and two of her sisters, after learning of Rasmussen’s letter to Persky.
Stanford acknowledged that more needs to be done but said it is a national leader in implementing prevention programs, student training on intervention and support for victims.
“There is still much work to be done, not just here, but everywhere, to create a culture that does not tolerate sexual violence in any form and a judicial system that deals appropriately with sexual assault cases,” its statement said.
The judge is barred from commenting on the case because Turner is appealing his conviction, court spokesman Joe Macaluso said.