Stanford University's graduating students used the school's commencement ceremony as a platform to express their anger over the six-month jail sentence gives to a former student, Brock Turner, for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
The 20-year-old will serve only three months for the assault of an unidentified unconscious women during his freshmen year. Turner, who has since been expelled, has drawn international attention and has blamed his actions on alcohol. Many Stanford students are decrying what thy see as the lenient sentence he received.
According to New York Daily News, Turner's victim, a 23-year-old who did not attend Stanford, wrote an impassioned letter shared widely by celebrities and supporters to highlight the impact sexual assault has on victims' lives.
Students chose a variety of protest methods to call attention to the issue. One graduating student carried a sign that accused Stanford of protecting rapists, while others attended a lighthearted "Walky Walk" before the official graduation for which students adorn silly costumes. The protesting students wore clothes with the number "1/3" written on them, representing the World Health Organization statistic that one-third of women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
According to Fox News, the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns used his keynote address to address sexual assault. "If someone tells you they have been sexually assaulted, take it effing seriously and listen to them," said Burns, who is the father of four girls. "Maybe someday we'll make the survivor's eloquent statement as important as Dr. (Martin Luther) King's letter from the Birmingham jail." Additionally, during the ceremony, a small plane carrying a banner that read "Protect Survivors. Not Rapists. #PerskyMustGo" flew over the Stanford University Stadium.
Turner's sentence, which also requires him to register as a sex offender for life, touched off an emotional firestorm about the prevalence of sexual assault on American campuses. Critics have collected thousands upon thousands of signatures demanding that the Judge Aaron Persky be removed from the bench after issuing Turner's sentence.
Much of the charge has been led by the women's advocacy group UltraViolet, which submitted more than 800,000 signatures to the Commission on Judicial Performance's San Francisco pushing for Persky's removal. The group also has filed a formal misconduct complaint.
"Stanford students are justifiably outraged over a so-called justice system that protects privileged white rapists over the survivors of their crimes," said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet. "With one in four women sexually assaulted while in college, we need judges that take rape seriously, and that's why Judge Persky should be removed from the bench."
According to Gretel Kauffman of the Christian Science Monitor, the message students wanted to send transcended the incident at Stanford. The protestors wanted to highlight and denounce the widespread occurrence of sexual assault on college campuses nationwide.
The students are demanding that Stanford release the names of students that have been found responsible for sexual assault. The petition, signed by over 600 students, alleges that the university "knowingly hides" these assaulters' names "because they would confirm what survivors on campus already know: numerous serial assaulters continue to live anonymously in dorms with the university's knowledge of their pattern of assault."