The Stanford sexual assault case continues to make headlines as the public grapples with the legal consequences the ruling created. Not only has the sexual assault case made headlines for the sentence Brock Turner received in that case, but also the trial is drawing more attention to how police deal with rape reports.
Research paper topics could examine the differences between states in terms of minimum penalties for these cases, as well as ways our police departments could improve their handling of such cases.
New legal consequences
Controversy has surrounded the three-month sentence that Brock Turner served in the Stanford sexual assault case. He was originally sentenced to six months in jail, which was deemed by many to be insufficient for his crime. The issue arose because California law viewed penetrative sexual assault differently if the victim had passed out or was intoxicated. According to the article, “After Stanford Case, California Governor Signs Bill Toughening Penalties for Sexual Assault,” by Niraj Chokshi for The New York Times September 30, 2016, the state’s law previously determined that “Because such victims could not physically resist, the state deemed the assaults as lacking a use of force, which would trigger a mandatory denial of probation.”
Governor Jerry Brown changed that when he signed a new law into effect requiring a minimum sentence and an automatic denial of probation in any penetrative sexual assault. A research paper for a law class could delve further into how such differences as the one that drew attention in the Stanford sexual assault case affect rape reports from state to state.
Police practice and rape reports
Not only do the laws governing justice in sexual assault cases vary from state to state, how rape reports are handled by law enforcement also varies significantly. Emily Shaw posted, “How is your city responding to rape reports?” September 14, 2016, for sunlightfoundation.com, with insight into how different states handle rape reports. For instance, “It turns out that there’s substantial variation in whether or not the average police department reports rapes as ‘unfounded.’” Across nineteen states (and Guam), rape cases are almost never reported as unfounded. In North Carolina, meanwhile, the average police department reports over 10 percent of rape cases to be unfounded,” Shaw wrote.
Part of the issue is that there is no one source of data that collects how law enforcement handles sexual assault cases and rape reports. The Sunlight Foundation utilized the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) to determine what they did about rape reports. Unfortunately, sexual assaults are not the only area where law enforcement has no nationwide source of statistics. A research paper in a criminal justice class could examine what resources are available to provide an overview of law enforcement accountability and how these efforts could be expanded and improved.
Sexual assault on campus
For college students, incidences of sexual assault on campus have garnered more and more attention in the past five years, as have ways to combat the problem. “Assault Prevention Progress: Five Considerations for Improving Sexual Assault Policies” by Dawn Papandrea for the September 2016 issue of University Business offered suggestions.
Engaging students effectively requires a five-step approach, Papandrea reported. These steps are:
- Ensuring the messaging impacts students
- Creating a bystander intervention program
- Providing adequate training for staff, faculty and others
- Utilizing local resources
- Using technology to supplement a university’s assault prevention programs
In terms of the bystander program, Papandrea shared, “Bystander intervention awareness–which puts the focus not on the potential victim or perpetrator, but rather anyone able to observe a behavior–is the place to start.” A research paper could explore which programs at what schools have proved effective and why.
Are there other changes to the legal consequences in sexual assault cases that should be made? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.