Stanford students demand names of sexual offenders on campus

Stanford University students say they plan to protest at their commencement ceremony on Sunday, demanding that the school release the names of students found guilty of sexual assault. 

Tessa Ormenyi/AP/File
Students hold up a sign about rape at White Plaza during New Student Orientation on the Stanford University campus in Stanford, Calif. on Sept. 16, 2015.

It may not come as a shock that students at Stanford University have announced a plan to protest sexual assault on campus at the university's commencement ceremony on Sunday.

But the focus of this protest isn't Brock Turner, the swimmer found guilty of raping an unconscious woman, whose clean-cut media headshot and short jail sentence have spurred outrage and discussion across the country.

Instead, the focus is on all those found guilty of sexual assault whose names are not in the headlines. 

In an online petition that's garnered more than 600 signatures thus far, Stanford students are demanding that the school release the names of students that have been found responsible for sexual assault via university investigation. The petition alleges that the university "knowingly hides" these names "because they would confirm what survivors on campus already know: numerous serial assaulters continue to live anonymously in dorms with the university's knowledge of their pattern of assault."

The protest is set to take place during the "Wacky Walk," the traditional 15-minute procession of graduates entering the football stadium at the start of the commencement ceremony. 

According to U.S. Department of Education statistics, there were 26 cases of rape at Stanford University in 2014 – or, as the author of the petition puts it, one assault every two weeks. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that one in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, and that more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. (It should be noted that the accuracy of these statistics has been questioned.)

The 2015 documentary "The Hunting Ground," which aired on CNN, chronicled the struggle of college students across the country who allege that their sexual assault claims were either ignored or brushed under the rug by universities hoping to maintain a safe reputation. So why has this particular case attracted so much attention?

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik provides one possible explanation.

"This is a case in which there was an accusation that in fact was witnessed by two graduate students because it took place in a public space," Mr. Folkenflik said in an interview with Ari Shapiro. "It was referred by the campus to local law enforcement authorities. There was a trial and a conviction. So you have a felon. You have something that was witnessed. You have something that ultimately is not really contestable. It happened."

The difficulty in contesting Brock Turner's crime sets it apart from other sexual assault cases recently in the media, Folkenflik says. He cites "The Hunting Ground," which included sexual assault crimes similar to Brock Turner's yet received pushback from some journalistic critics, as one example. 

The writers of the Stanford petition make a similar claim about the public nature of Turner's crime contributing to the widespread outrage the case has received, asserting that "were it not for two random passersby, Turner would still be a Stanford student and still be preying upon other students."

Regardless of the outcome of the protest, the high-profile visibility of even one case, such as Turner's, can be enough to spur nationwide discussion and provoke a shift in public attitudes, experts say.

Turner's short sentence "has prompted many to wonder if there is 'an underlying cultural bias' in the legal system and to call for reform similar to what's been playing out in recent years on many college campuses," reported the Christian Science Monitor's Stacy Teicher Khadaroo last week, referencing an interview with Peter Lake, a professor at Stetson University College of Law. 

"Public attitudes about appropriate punishment often drive change," Professor Lake said.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the sourcing of the 2015 documentary "The Hunting Ground."]

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