“You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today,” Emily Doe said during the Brock Turner trial, a pseudonym used by the anonymous survivor during the case. Her words inspired Gov. Jerry Brown to sign two new bills.
Assembly Bill (AB) 2888 and AB 701 were signed into law on Sept. 30, following the release of Brock Turner, the Stanford student sentenced to six months in jail after a jury found him guilty of three felony sexual assault charges. Turner was released in August after three months in jail due to good behavior — though the judge sentenced him to six — and will now be a registered sex offender for life.
“The national awakening about campus sexual assaults started by Emily Doe’s powerful letter continues to grow, changing our minds and our laws,” said Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen, author of AB 2888, in a press release. “While prisons are not appropriate for every person convicted of a crime, rapists belong in prison.”
AB 2888 creates a three-year minimum prison sentence for those convicted of rape, barring them from probation. AB 701 expands the legal definition of rape to include unconscious victims. If the bills were in place during Turner’s trial, the judge would have convicted him of rape rather than sexual assault and sentenced him to a minimum of three years.
Brown also signed Senate Bill (SB) 813 in late September, eliminating the statute of limitation on certain felony sex offenses, which will also go into effect Jan. 1, 2017. Under current law, prosecution of these offenses must begin within 10 years of the crime.
“[The bills] reflect a national discourse and awareness raising and conversation starting,” said UC Santa Cruz student Carly Taylor, the violence prevention intern at the Campus Advocacy Resources and Education (CARE) office and Chancellor’s Undergraduate Internship Program (CUIP). “The fact people were outraged by the verdict of Brock Turner is important and useful and encouraging in a lot of ways.”
AB 2888 and AB 701 will affect cases where the police are involved and legal action is pursued, similar to Turner’s. However, they will not affect Title IX policies, said UCSC Title IX officer Tracey Tsugawa. Title IX is the policy and entity for universities that receive federal funding which protects people from discrimination based on sex, including sexual assault and harassment. Under Title IX, the minimum mandatory sanction for sexual violence and harassment incidents is a two-year suspension. This minimum sanction is an option for sexual assault survivors who may not want to involve the police and would rather handle the situation through the university.
“The criminal justice system is just brutal when it comes to these cases and what a victim/survivor may experience in that process,” Tsugawa said. “Because defense attorneys can just do anything and everything to try to just tear apart the complainant in a case like that. We don’t allow for that kind of cross examination.”
However, concerns remain over campus proceedings of similar cases. In the past year, outrage over the handling of sexual assault cases hit the UC system. In August, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced he would resign after criticism for mishandling sexual harassment cases. In addition to the sexual harassment cases that have plagued UCB earlier this year, students and staff made allegations against a vice chancellor, a law dean and an astronomy professor, among others, since 2013. Students expressed outrage towards the university’s Title IX office after hearing that sexual harassment complaints went unaddressed for months, sometimes even years, at a time.
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights added UC Berkeley to a list of colleges it would investigate due to concerns of Title IX violations. Last year, the Office for Civil Rights added UCSC to the list.
“I think there’s a general skepticism that the university doesn’t value students and wants to keep their numbers of [sexual] assaults low,” said CARE and CUIP intern Carly Taylor.
One concern is the process the Title IX office takes in removing accused perpetrators from campus. Currently, UC policy states that in the event that an accused perpetrator chooses to appeal the findings, the disciplinary actions are put on hold. If a student violates Title IX policy and is suspended but then makes an appeal, they are allowed to return to campus. At minimum, the Title IX office will issue a no contact directive between the victim and the accused perpetrator, meaning no contact in person, on social media or via a third party. Violating this means disciplinary action by the university.
Earlier this year, UCSC faced public scrutiny after data from the Clery Report, mandated by the federal law requiring universities to disclose crime information, revealed the university ranked fourth in California in crimes per student. UCSC sexual violence numbers in the Clery Report have been on the rise, said Title IX officer Tracey Tsugawa, and for the 2015-16 school year, the Title IX office received 233 reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment.
“We still know that the vast majority of incidents never get reported,” Tsugawa said. “Our best guess is that the 233 [reports] probably represent maybe 10 to 15 percent of the actual number of incidents that are going on out there.”
Since July 1 of this year, the Title IX office has received twice as many reports as last year, Tsugawa said. She expects the increase in reports is attributed to the increase in knowledge of reporting options. Under the Title IX office, students who report incidents can pursue Title IX investigations and at the same time report a crime to the police. In this case, the AB 2888 and AB 701 will affect the results of those proceedings that involve state courts.
However, the bills were not exclusively met with praise. Some brought up concerns about overcrowding prisons, lacking restorative justice programs and the real impact on rape.
“[The current justice system] doesn’t deal with the conditions that make rape possible,” said Rebekah Mills, a member of prison abolition group Sin Barras. “It doesn’t protect the people targeted by sexual violence. It doesn’t stop abuses of power. It kind of maintains the existing order.”
Even if the police believe a crime occurred, the district attorney can drop the case if there is insufficient evidence. These new bills are an attempt to ensure that when the district attorney does pursue a case that the outcome will be regulated.
“It’s hard to predict what kind of impact it’ll make as we move forward into the future, other than the obvious,” said Tsugawa. “You’re not going to have the kind of sentence that occurred in the Brock Turner case, which is a good thing.”