Stanford rape: Curtin University expert says light sentences discourage women from reporting crimes

Stanford rape: Curtin University expert says light sentences discourage women from reporting crimes

As the fallout continues from the light sentence handed down in the Stanford Rape case, a Curtin University expert says such punishments only serve to discourage women from reporting such crimes.

Most of the world reacted with outrage at the six-month sentence handed to 20-year-old Brock Turner – a swimmer with Olympic ambitions – for the rape of a 23-year-old woman on the Stanford campus in January 2015.

In May Curtin screened the documentary The Hunting Ground, an expose of rape crimes across US college campuses.

It was shown in a bid to affirm Curtin’s “commitment to safety, respect and consent” and ensure “students and staff are educated about sexual assault”.

But a Curtin academic said much work still needed to be done in making students feel comfortable coming forward after an attack.

Doctor Marika Guggisberg, of Curtin’s Department of Health Promotion and Sexology, said light sentences deterred victims of sexual assault from reporting the crime.

“What is happening as a result is that victims are more reluctant to come forward,” Dr Guggisberg said.

“They are reluctant anyway – sentences like this are not encouraging them to seek assistance.

“I think the message this (sentence) sends is that sexual assault is not taken seriously – that it is not a big deal.”

The woman in the Stanford case, whose victim impact statement makes emotional reading, had been drinking alcohol before her assault.

Dr Guggisberg said that is a further deterrent to reporting the crime – but it shouldn’t be.

“Of course, if alcohol is involved, victims are much more reluctant to report the assault to the police, because there is this assumption that it is their fault,” she said.

Dr Guggisberg said a student of hers had recently completed a dissertation on sexual assaults on university campuses.

“It’s higher among university students than the general community,” she said.

“Unfortunately, none of the respondents of my student actually sought help or reported the incident to the police.”