Criminal Justice

Stanford Students Ask: Why are Universities Protecting the Identities of Sex Offenders?

After Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in county jail at the beginning of June, people rallied behind the survivor. More than a million people have joined that movement and their demands for justice — for all rape survivors — are echoing around the country.

In response to the crime, which took place on their own campus, the Stanford Survivor Solidarity Network started a petition asking the university to release the names of known rapists on campus.

Tina Ju and Amanda Lorei, two Stanford students who helped author the petition, took the time to speak with us about that petition and how it relates to Title IX.

Juliana: The Brock Turner case has touched and angered people across the country – and even the world – but it hit particularly close to home for you. Why?

Tina & Amanda: A lot of people were angered by the Brock Turner case simply because it happened. I was angered because people thought this was a one time thing — that Brock Turner was the one monster out there. I personally know individuals who are much, much worse than Turner — so bad that their victims are afraid to come forward or be associated with them at all.

The reaction to this case and its sentencing, in the context of the systemic rape culture at Stanford and other universities, made me feel alone and powerless. However, Emily Doe’s letter gave survivors a voice for the first time. By speaking out to the whole world as a survivor, Emily Doe helped change that conversation: Survivors are finally being heard.

Kate: Where were you when you first heard about Emily Doe’s letter?

Tina & Amanda: I was proctoring the SAT at a local high school. During a lull in the testing, I started reading the victim impact statement. It was devastating. I had to take breaks between paragraphs or even sentences to emotionally process. By the end, I was holding back tears.

Juliana: We’ve had more than a million people take action on seeking justice after the ruling. Many are focused on recalling or removing the judge who gave Turner the lenient sentence, but you decided to turn your attention to Stanford. Tell us about that.

Tina & Amanda: I think we are trying to do the same thing really. We are trying to make not only rapists more accountable, but also the systems of justice in which they are tried. This assault happened on the Stanford campus, as do so many others — but most other assaults don’t go to criminal court.

I think this is a platform to change policies in universities across the country.

Juliana: Your campaign centers around Title IX, which a lot of people are familiar with because of the protections it provides to female students within sports. What else does it do?

Tina & Amanda: Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Period. So many things fall under its mandate: sports, academics, and, very importantly, protection from sexual violence.

It’s important to note that Title IX protects students of all gender identities, be it male, female, or gender non-conforming, from any form of gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence.

Specifically, when it comes to sexual violence, Title IX requires universities to do, among many other things, the following:

  • Be proactive in ensuring the campus is free of sexual discrimination.

  • Have an established procedure for handling complaints of sex discrimination, sexual harassment or sexual violence.

  • Take immediate action to ensure a victim can continue their education free of ongoing sex discrimination, sexual harassment or sexual violence.

We believe that Stanford and many other universities are shirking not only their responsibility to sexual assault survivors, but to the studentry at large. For instance, not only do some survivors encounter their rapists on campus even after Title IX finds the rapist accountable, but also other students unknowingly interact with known sex offenders.

According to Know Your IX, a survivor- and youth-led organization that aims to empower students to end sexual and dating violence in their schools, “If a school knows or reasonably should know about discrimination, harassment or violence that is creating a ‘hostile environment’ for any student, it must act to eliminate it, remedy the harm caused and prevent its recurrence.”

Juliana: What problems do you see with how Stanford handles its Title IX process?

Tina & Amanda: Students are actively discouraged from pursuing an investigation [after reporting a sexual assault] to formal hearings. In fact, Stanford has violated a Title IX requirement stating that students must be told what potential sanctions are.

Title IX investigators actually rarely provide such information, implying that little or no action could possibly take place. Placing this extreme burden on the survivor while giving them no confidence that any sanctions will actually occur, strongly disincentivizes reporting to begin with — it just doesn’t make sense. It also takes weeks for the Title IX office to get back to survivors post-reporting, which leads many survivors to give up on the process in its entirety.

Moreover, even when a student is found responsible for sexual assault of multiple victims, they are not expelled. To our knowledge, only one student has ever been expelled by Stanford for sexual violence. Though a few, like Brock Turner, have “voluntarily withdrawn,” that only occurs in the most horrendous and public of offenses.

Kate: What is your greatest hope for your petition?

Tina & Amanda: We hope that this petition will start a national conversation about not only how universities protect themselves and rapists at the expense of survivors, but also how there is no legal reason for doing so. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not protect the privacy and identities of those found responsible of sexual violence — so why are universities protecting their identities?

We would much rather see rapists expelled or extensively rehabilitated. However, this current system is so obfuscated — we want transparency in how universities are handling this matter.

That’s why we call for Stanford to do the following:

  • Release aggregate data on all Title IX investigations.

  • Administration of the same campus climate survey that all of Stanford’s peer institutions use.

  • Release the names of rapists found responsible under Title IX who have multiple victim statements.

Only through the release of aggregate data can we actually see how many rapists walk among us and exactly what Stanford has been doing to protect its students. We hope that this will be a starting point for extensive discussions and reforms of the Title IX process not just at Stanford, but at all universities.

If Stanford will not hold rapists accountable, then we as students must hold Stanford accountable for its actions.

The Stanford Survivor Solidarity Network’s petition is part of a larger movement to get justice for Stanford’s sexual assault survivor.


Image courtesy of Stand with Leah’s Facebook page.

Written by
Kate Davey and Juliana Schwartz
July 1, 2016 4:07 pm