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US campus rape in spotlight again after Colorado case

world Updated: Aug 13, 2016 18:02 IST
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Stanford University's campus is seen in an aerial photo in Stanford, California. (REUTERS File Photo)

Another campus rape victim in the United States has spoken out to denounce what she said is lenient punishment for her attacker, bringing the issue to the forefront again after a Stanford University case that ignited a firestorm.

Sexual assault is epidemic on American campuses, with a 2015 Brown University studying finding that more than one in every six women are raped during their first year at college while too drunk or incapacitated to fend off their attacker.

On Wednesday, former University of Colorado student Austin James Wilkerson, 22, was sentenced to two years in jail and 20 years to life on probation after being convicted of sexually assaulting a drunk classmate.

The two-year sentence is on a work-release basis, meaning he can leave jail during the day to work or attend school.

Wilkerson was convicted of assaulting the then-freshman after a party on March 15, 2014.

In a statement that was read in court and published by various US media outlets, the unidentified woman detailed the ways her life has been “ruined socially, psychologically, academically and financially.”

She said she has attempted suicide and suffers from nightmares and panic attacks.

“Although I did have to relive the trauma multiple times, I would go through this process all over again,” the woman said in a statement Friday released by prosecutors.

“Our goal has been to have the rapist not perpetrate again, which hopefully won’t happen even with the light sentence,” she said.

“I get to tell my story and not keep it bottled up. Other brave survivors’ eerily familiar stories have inspired me to share my story that rape isn’t always a stranger in the bushes.”

Judge Patrick Butler, who presided over the case, said he “struggled, to be quite frank, with the idea of ‘Do I put him in prison?’“

Another rape survivor, a 2015 graduate of the University of Colorado, slammed the judge in an open letter published Thursday.

“Your sentence was not handed down in a vacuum. It sends a message to every person in this country that sexual assault isn’t a serious, punishable offence,” Chandler McCorkle wrote.

“Your sentence tells young men that as long as they are white, show an inkling of remorse for their crime, and behave themselves during trial, they too can rape with impunity without fear of true repercussion.”

McCorkle said her rapist, “a handsome, athletic, 16-year-old,” was sentenced to five years of probation, a curfew and therapy.

In June, the Stanford case burst into the spotlight after the victim wrote public a powerful letter to the judge who sentenced her attacker -- 20-year-old former Stanford University student Brock Turner -- to six months in jail on three felony convictions.

In this June 2, 2016 photo, Brock Turner, 20, makes his way into the Santa Clara Superior Courthouse in Palo Alto. The six-month jail term given to Turner, the former Stanford University swimmer who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman after both attended a fraternity party, is being decried as a token punishment. (AP)

Her harrowing 12-page account of the January 2015 assault and its impact on her life lit up the internet, drawing a global chorus of outrage.

The impact of the letter reached the White House, with Vice President Joe Biden praising the woman as a “warrior.”

Observers say lax policies on campuses have created a climate of impunity and discouraged victims from speaking out.