At Stanford, weak sanctions for sexual assault leave survivors as victims

June 3, 2014, 12:46 p.m.

Sexual assault on college campuses, a topic normally surrounded by a culture of silence, has become headline news. This is a national issue, and Stanford, while idealized as a palm-lined paradise, is not exempt from reality: sexual assault happens everywhere. Although Stanford has avoided the federal investigations and public scrutiny directed at other institutions, our university’s policies regarding sexual violence are just as critically flawed. As one survivor expressed to me, “When Stanford told me how it was sanctioning the man it found responsible for forcibly sexually assaulting me, I felt totally helpless.”

The Stanford Alternate Review Process (ARP) is Stanford’s process for adjudication regarding student on student altercations, but most students found responsible for sexual assault by the ARP have not faced any significant consequences for their actions. According to tenured Stanford Law professor Michele Dauber, head of the Board of Judicial Affairs from 2011-2013, between 2005 and 2011, nine students were found responsible for sexual assault and one student was expelled. The other eight students received suspensions ranging from 1-8 quarters, sometimes including other restrictions such as housing bans, mandatory education and/or community service.

Professor Dauber believes that “expulsion is the appropriate sanction for sexual assault, unless there are highly unusual mitigating circumstances. The purposes of the Fundamental Standard and the Penalty Code can only be carried out if there is accountability.” I agree and believe that the only way to hold students accountable is to expel those parties found responsible for forcible sexual assault.

We have a problem of sexual assault here. A survey presented to the Faculty Senate in 2013 noted that out of the 175 reported sexual assaults between 1997 and 2009, only four students chose to pursue cases for evaluation by Judicial Affairs (now known as The Office of Community Standards), and only in two of those cases was the accused party found responsible.

Stanford’s current ARP, supposedly meant to improve accountability, is a drastic but toothless improvement. In general, the channels presently available to student survivors seeking penalties for their accused assailants include filing cases with the ARP and/or under Title IX. But at Stanford, the only way to discipline a responsible party is to file a case with ARP. A student cannot be suspended or expelled through Title IX at Stanford because of the Student Judicial Charter, which provides a specific judicial process prior to any and all disciplinary action, relegating survivors to the ARP if they want to see their accused attackers penalized in any way.

Despite a parallel increase in the number of ARP cases and parties found responsible, most students found to have committed sexual assault or misconduct are allowed to complete their education with illusory and mostly confidential consequences. It is no surprise to me that a survivor would question going through the ARP, a difficult and lengthy ordeal that delivers only the legal equivalent of a slap on the wrist – even in cases of forcible rape. In addition to going through the trauma of having their stories picked apart and questioned, survivors are expected to be high-performing students at a rigorous institution, oftentimes knowing that even if the responding party is found responsible, that student will still have the privilege of attending and graduating from Stanford. One ARP case, currently underway, has already taken Stanford more than twice the 60-day ARP timeline recommendation to resolve. That case has lasted about five months, spanned two quarters and derailed the academic life of the rape survivor involved. I will not attempt to put into words the emotional toll shouldered by survivors of sexual assault.

Students who are found responsible and are allowed to reintegrate back into the Stanford community threaten the safety of the student survivor as well as other members of the Stanford community. A student found responsible for sexual assault could be sitting next to you in lecture or mixing you a drink on Friday night. The responsible party’s confidentiality is protected, while the survivor and other members of the community are not. Students need to be held accountable for their actions because only through accountability can a person responsible of sexual assault understand that what they did was wrong.

So what’s being done about this? It takes engaged student leadership, responses to Federal Policy and the adoption of the best practices spearheaded by universities moving to increase student safety. At Stanford, the ASSU has committed a task force to make sexual assault education a key issue of importance and is looking to work with other student groups to brainstorm new and stronger policies for student and campus safety. Dartmouth has enacted policies in response to those set forth by the White House Task Force, including mandatory expulsion of repeat offenders, as well as first-time offenders in cases of penetration accomplished by force, threat or purposeful incapacitation. Expulsion is also strongly recommended in all other cases involving penetration. In addition to these new policies, Dartmouth has established a new resource center, and community programming educating undergraduates in bystander intervention. Peer schools are following suit and I believe that Stanford must enact serious changes as well.

It is unlikely that students who do not go through these processes currently in place at Stanford, or know someone going through them, will understand how negatively our policies impact survivors of sexual assault. I am personally learning about individual cases that I know could be handled much better with more extensive resources and more investigators, so that each case could be evaluated as carefully and quickly as possible. The Student Judicial Charter states: “All members of the Stanford community are invited to propose suggestions about modification of judicial procedures to the Board.” As a member of this community I ask that Stanford strengthen current policies and give out sanctions that reflect the magnitude of the violations committed by students found responsible for sexual assault.

Students at Columbia, Harvard and Brown have all encouraged seniors to wear strips of red tape on their graduation caps to acknowledge that there is a serious issue on their campuses and demand their respective administrations amend insufficient policies. I invite all members of the senior class to join me in wearing red tape on our caps at commencement to support survivors of sexual assault and to encourage Stanford to do the same.

Contact Rebeca Felix at [email protected]

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