Students Want Stanford To Apologize For Brock Turner's Sexual Assault

A petition with nearly 60,000 signatures says the university should acknowledge its role in the campus attack.
Handout . / Reuters

Student activists want Stanford University to publicly apologize to the woman former swim team member Brock Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting on its Palo Alto, California, campus.

A petition demanding the school apologize, as well as offer counseling for the woman and increased resources for assault survivors, has collected nearly 60,000 signatures since it was launched this week.

Stanford has for years faced criticism for its handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Five federal investigations target the prestigious school for its handling of such cases, more than any other U.S. college or university.

Stanford has repeatedly defended its actions in the Turner case, saying it did all it could to help bring justice.

Turner was a Stanford student on the swim team when he sexually assaulted the woman, a recent graduate, on Jan. 18, 2015, outside of a campus fraternity party. Witnesses intervened and called police, and Stanford Department of Public Safety officers arrested Turner that night.

Turner was found guilty of sexual assault in March. Last week, a judge disregarded a prosecution request for six years' imprisonment and sentenced Turner to six months in jail.

Stanford, in a statement Monday, defended its role in the case as international outrage rose over the lenient punishment.

"This was a horrible incident, and we understand the anger and deep emotion it has generated," the school's statement said.

University representatives have not spoken with the woman since late January 2015, about 10 days after Turner's arrest, a university spokeswoman said Wednesday.

“Stanford wasn't the villain in the case, but it can most definitely be a hero."”

- Stephanie Pham, a Stanford student activist

At the time, the university's Title IX coordinator "offered to provide her support," Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin told The Huffington Post in a statement. "It was left that she would contact the Title IX Office if she wanted or needed any further assistance," Lapin said. "The Title IX Office did not contact her again because we respected her privacy."

Stanford also informed the woman that it had begun an investigation of Turner in addition to the police inquiry, Lapin said.

"Stanford and Turner came to what is effectively an agreed expulsion, which means that he could no longer be a student then or in the future," Lapin said. "In addition, he was banned from setting foot in campus, which is not typically included in an expulsion. This not only provided quick action and our harshest sanction but avoided the need for the survivor to participate in a protracted disciplinary process."

Stanford has faced criticism in the past for sanctions on students found to have violated the sexual assault policy. One student, Leah Francis, said in 2014 that a student found to have assaulted her was suspended -- but only after commencement.

A Huffington Post investigation this year showed multiple women had reported being sexually and physically assaulted by the same man at Stanford between 2010 and 2014. The offender was ultimately punished for violating the school's sexual assault policy with a 15-year ban from campus and alumni events -- effective after his graduation.

In the Turner case, activists aren't alleging that Stanford did anything wrong.

"Stanford wasn't the villain in the case, but it can most definitely be a hero," said Stephanie Pham, an undergraduate who helped start the petition.

Pham said she'd like Stanford to use the attention surrounding the Turner case to implement reforms. A start would be an apology for the fact that the assault happened on campus.

"If I came out of my house and found a young woman had been sexually assaulted next to my trash can, on my property, the first thing I would say is, 'I'm very sorry, how can I help you?'" said Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor who's a family friend of Turner's victim.

David Palumbo-Liu, a Stanford comparative literature professor, noted that the Oregon State University president apologized to a sexual assault victim, then hired her as a consultant advising the school to improve its response to sex crimes. He said statements like Oregon State's show "humility" and make it easier for the community to bond.

"My feeling is something extraordinarily awful happened, and a lot of us were looking for an extraordinary statement," Palumbo-Liu said. "If we're looking for ways to heal, we need to have a way to bond together and we need to have something we can invest our energy behind."


Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter focusing on higher education and sexual violence, and is based in New York. You can reach him at, or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

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