With the high-profile sexual assault case of ex-swimmer Brock Turner barely behind them, Stanford University officials say they are investigating a report that a female student was raped on campus Friday by a stranger in his dorm.
Bill Larson, a spokesman for the Stanford Department of Public Safety, told local media, "She is processing a very traumatic experience, understandably, and I'm sure she is processing whether to come forward to us and give us a statement so we can continue with the investigation."
A day after the attack, campus police sent out an alert, urging "anyone who has been sexually assaulted or subjected to other forms of sexual misconduct or harassment" to come forward and report the incident. "Stanford University does not tolerate sexual assault, sexual misconduct, or sexual harassment," the alert said.
The alleged incident happened hours before California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law two bills that expanded the definition of rape and required mandatory prison time for sex crimes committed on an intoxicated or unconscious person. (Prison time is already mandatory for forceful rape, sodomy and other acts against a conscious person.)
AB 2888, the mandatory sentencing bill, was a direct result of the Brock Turner case; Turner was infamously sentenced to just six months in jail after raping an unconscious woman after a party. Gov. Brown said in a statement that he believed the bill would bring "a measure of parity to sentencing for criminal acts that are substantially similar." Both laws go into effect on January 1, 2017.
Luis Ramos is the supervisor of the sexual assault team at the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, which tried Turner. He tells Broadly that prior to this new legislation, spearheaded by Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, it was not required by law that perpetrators convicted of rape, sodomy, or digital penetration of an unconscious or intoxicated individual be sent to prison.
"The judge had the discretion prior to the law change to sentence [a perpetrator] to prison or to local county jail and give him probation," he explains. A judge could consider special circumstances, including a lack of criminal history, no injury to the victim, remorse on the part of the defendant or youthfulness of the defendant, when determining sentencing. In Turner's case, Judge Aaron Perksy noted that he thought the defendant expressed "genuine" remorse for his crimes.
"Now, a judge will not be able to consider those special circumstances," Ramos says. "A judge will still have discretion within the available punishment of three, six, or eight years, but now somebody convicted of any of those crimes must be sent to prison."
The details of this latest alleged incident at Stanford have not come out yet, and it remains unclear whether the victim will even involve law enforcement at all. As the advocacy organization Know Your IX notes, campus reporting is intentionally distinct from the criminal justice system. "Many victims of sexual violence don't want to turn to the criminal justice system: they may fear skepticism and abuse from police, prosecutors, or juries; they may not want to go through the ordeal of a long trial; [and] they may fear retaliation from their assailant, who will most likely not end up prosecuted, let alone convicted," the Know Your IX website states.
Ramos says that his office has always taken sexual assault cases seriously and encourages survivors of sexual violence to continue reporting, especially in light of the new mandatory sentencing bill. "I hope victims of crime will be encouraged to know their case will be treated seriously as it always has been," Ramos says, "but also if the person gets convicted, the right punishment will be imposed."