Responding to rape at Stanford

June 3, 2014, 12:40 p.m.

Provost Etchemendy’s message in response to Evan Spiegel’s emails rightly received praise across campus, social media and news outlets. As we heed Etchemendy’s call to “reflect on our common values,” we find ourselves wondering this: How can we launch a more powerful response to sexual violence?

We are offended by Spiegel’s language and the culture it promotes, but we are more incensed by the very real violence perpetrated by and against Stanford students and our collective insufficient response to it. Too many of our peers are violated by their classmates every year. A 2012 Vaden student survey revealed that four percent of Stanford students report that they have been raped, seven percent penetrated sexually against their will and 15 percent have engaged in intercourse under pressure. This must change.

Many throw up their hands and say we are doing all we can. That’s not true. With a $19 billion endowment, 22 Nobel Laureates and an unstoppable innovation engine, we have no excuse for failure. Stanford can lead the country in addressing sexual assault – but only if we choose to. Here are three meaningful steps we can take right now:


1. Expel Rapists

While rape survivors are common, rapists are less so. Repeat offenders account for nine out of every 10 rapes on college campuses, raping an average of 5.8 victims. Since most rapes aren’t reported, rapists can be hard to identify. When students are found guilty of rape, they should face expulsion, not a mere suspension. This is not only for the sake of justice, but also to prevent future violence.

Unfortunately, expulsion is not Stanford’s modus operandi. According to Stanford Law School professor Michele Dauber, who headed the Board of Judicial Affairs from 2011-13 and was one of the authors of the Alternate Review Process (ARP), there were nine cases of students found responsible for sexual assault between 2005-11. Eight cases involved suspensions, and only one student – a serial rapist – was expelled. Stanford should follow Dartmouth, Amherst and Duke in adopting mandatory expulsion for students found guilty of sexual assault.


2. Increase Investment in Prevention and Response

Addressing sexual assault requires sustained and comprehensive interventions. Stanford’s current programs are under resourced. The Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Office has two staff members, and one seat was recently vacated. That won’t do.

Stanford can and should invest more in efforts like those highlighted by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, including bystander education and comprehensive survivor support.

Stanford should also share information about where assaults occur. Currently students are deprived of information they could use to make informed decisions about staying as safe as possible on campus as well as data they could use to advocate for changes in dangerous houses. If the administration won’t do this, students should innovate or partner with third-party organizations – Ushahidi or Sexual Health Innovations, for example – to make this happen.

Stanford can also lead in student-designed innovations and programming. Students have a critical view from the trenches that, combined with the school’s entrepreneurial culture, can bring fresh approaches to the issue of sexual violence. A social innovation competition and funding to student groups could spur new interventions.


3. Take the Survivor’s Perspective

As one student pressing charges shared, “Being a rape victim is a full-time job.” Despite recent improvements, Stanford’s judicial process places a severe administrative burden on the survivor, often leaving survivors to face a tradeoff between healing and the pursuit of justice. Survivors need centralized support to help navigate the process.

Stanford should also consider the option of removing accused students from campus on a case-by-case basis, as is legally permitted under Title IX. While an alleged sexual assault is under investigation, the principle of innocence until proven guilty and the right of all students to pursue their education free from fear or intimidation may be in conflict. Stanford needs a process for considering the balance of harms in adjudicating such conflicts.

Right now, the status quo favors the accused: no student can be completely removed from campus until after the ARP process, including all appeals. This can take months and come at the expense of the education of the alleged victim and other students; the alleged victim must either leave or suffer the psychological burden of close proximity to his or her attacker. This is not to say that the accused should be automatically barred from campus – just that Stanford should have a process for considering it where appropriate.

Lastly, Stanford should review cases as swiftly as possible. Under the ARP, cases are supposed to be reviewed within the 30-day general guideline. In practice it can take much longer, further traumatizing the survivor.

Provost Etchemendy is right – we can do better. Stanford can and should lead the national movement to finally fully respond to sexual assaults on college campuses. These steps would be a great start.

Anna Ninan, MBA ’15

Jonny Dorsey ’09 MBA ’14


Contact Anna Ninan and Jonny Dorsey at [email protected] and [email protected].

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