The Difference between Sexual Assault and Power Outages

Opinion by Joe Troderman
June 21, 2014, 11:57 a.m.

If you have received four copies of an identical AlertSU message or “updates” that tell you nothing about an emergency, then you know that the AlertSU system has some problems. I like to be informed, but what I like least are instances like this:

On February 14, 2014, Campus Security Authority notified the Stanford Police Department that a male may have sexually assaulted a female student in a residence located in the 1000 block of Campus Dr. (Sent Feb. 15, 2014)

On May 7, 2014, a Campus Security Authority notified the Stanford Police Department that a female student had reported that a male acquaintance had sexually assaulted her on May 5, 2014 while they were in a vehicle parked near the intersection of Lomita and Santa Teresa. (Sent May 8, 2014)

A female reported that on Wednesday morning (9/19/12) at approximately 6:53 am, while running south on Alma near Palo Alto Ave (in Palo Alto), an unknown male suspect grabbed her breasts and then tried to pull her into the bushes. (Sent Sept. 20, 2012)

Everyone can agree that sexual assault is never acceptable. But on a deeper level, we should disagree with Stanford’s rhetorical means of reporting it.

These emails are clearly cookie-cutter, and copy-and-pasting text has two clear issues. Firstly, it shows that these events are recurrent enough that that the University can just cycle through old emails and change the dates and locations. That should be enough of an alarm to us. What’s even more alarming, though, is that it shows that the University doesn’t even care enough to take the time to write new emails for every assault.

But even worse than sending cookie-cutter emails is sending a single cookie-cutter compilation:

On February 26, 2014, a Campus Security Authority notified DPS that a female student had reported that a male acquaintance sexually assaulted her on February 21, 2014 at an undisclosed private residence on campus.

On March 2, 2014, a female student reported to DPS that an unknown male, possibly a student, gave her a drink which she believes may have contained a substance which caused her to become extremely dizzy and vomit.  The incident occurred on March 2, 2014 at a student residence on the 700 block of Santa Ynez.

On March 4, 2014, a Campus Security Authority notified DPS that a female had reported that a male student had sexually assaulted her on February 27, 2014 at a student residence on the 500 block of Alvarado Row.  According to the victim, the perpetrator used significant force during the assault, including choking her. (Sent March 5, 2014)

Sent the day after only the third of these events, why are there not emails on the 27th and the 3rd as well? Again, this seems a sign to me that sexual assault is a secondary crime to the University. Not only does sexual assault not merit a same-day email like a gas break — 16 emails were sent this year about just two leaks — a power failure or a bomb threat, but it does not even merit individual emails to report each crime.

This year, of eight sexual assaults reported through AlertSU, only one occurrence warranted a same-day response from AlertSU, with the average response time being two days. Excepting non-armed robberies, AlertSU sent out same-day emails for every crime other than sexual assault.

AlertSU makes power outages and gas leaks seem more important than sexual assault. Power outages slightly inconvenience people, and usually force them to do things other than be on Facebook. Sexual assault, on the other hand, does not fall under the category of “slight inconvenience.”

The last point on which I would like to briefly comment is the often seen: “The information about this incident is being reported to you in accordance with the Clery Act.” Lately, this has moved to the bottom of emails as an aside, but as recently as this February, it was included in the body.

It should speak for itself that Stanford would like to inform its student body of crimes as they occur on campus. But instead, the University seems to want to give a reason why it has to report assaults. It’s almost as if it is apologizing for wasting our time with an email, something it does not do for brush fires, backpack bombs or gas leaks. That is the rhetoric associated with cookie-cutter emails. And that is the rhetoric of waiting a week before informing students of an assault.

Stanford should report crimes as soon as they occur (so long as reporting does not hinder an investigation). Imagine if you received an AlertSU saying: “Last week, a Stanford student reported a man with a machine gun sitting outside Arrillaga Dining. Be alert and take measures to protect yourself. Stanford University does not tolerate armed gunmen on campus.”

Such an email protects no one. Yet we apply this. In the same way, reporting on Monday that there were sexual assaults Saturday night does not help people be aware of these crimes, which occur with significantly higher frequency on weekends, especially in confluence with parties.

Moreover, the University needs not say that law requires it to send out an email. The University needs to say that it sends out an email out of moral obligation and concern for student safety.

These rhetorical issues are just pieces of the broken mindset the University holds toward sexual assault. They are not the whole sexual assault psychosis, of course, but they deserve recognition and fixing.


Contact Joe Troderman at [email protected].

Joe Troderman is a columnist for The Stanford Daily. He is a member of the class of 2016 from Canton, Mass. (it's near Boston) pursuing a major in chemical engineering. Joe is passionate about the environment and enjoys playing poor-quality improvisational music on any stringed instrument he can find. To contact him, please mail him at jtrod93 'at' or P.O. Box 13387, Stanford, Calif. (even if it is just ad hominem attacks on his character, it will make his day to receive a letter that isn't for car insurance or bank accounts).

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