Days not seconds

Opinion by Jane Belcaster
Nov. 8, 2019, 3:22 a.m.

488 days. The span that ran from the horror of a winter day, Jan. 17, 2015, to June 3, 2016, when a letter penned by Emily Doe, filled with thousands of words, reached the world. 1,223 more days — 1,711 in all — until “Emily Doe,” in a book of tens of thousands of words more, invited that same world to know her name. And in that book of hundreds of pages, time and again, we learn, along with her name, that “no sense of boundaries exist” in the process of coming forward.

Imagine day one, or even day 502 — the day of Brock Turner’s conviction. Chanel Miller, not even close to the 1,711 necessary days, loses even more of herself: The court forces her to tell the world her name. But that is not what happened; Chanel Miller chose not to share herself with the world. She remained Emily Doe.

Now, imagine yourself, a student at Stanford. You’ve experienced your own horror of an unimaginable winter day. You share that horror with those you trust most: an RA — or maybe you confide in a friend, and your RA overhears. Imagine you then ask your RA to respect your request not to file a report. You want to remain Emily Doe. Your RA might want to abide, but Stanford won’t. Stanford has the power to command that the world, upon that very first utterance on that very first day, know your name.

Just recently, the Association of American Universities (AAU) released the 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, revealing that 40% of Stanford undergraduate women in their fourth-year or younger have experienced sexual assault on campus. Only 33% of women and 24% of men who were victims of non-consensual penetration reached out to campus resources. The system is failing; universities in general, and Stanford in particular, have created and perpetuated campuses of silence. 

Under Title IX, anyone deemed by the university to be a “responsible employee” is obligated to serve as a mandatory reporter when made aware of any sexual misconduct. At Stanford, faculty, academic staff, teaching assistants, residential advisors and residential deans all rank as mandatory reporters. The law commands them to report all misconduct to Stanford’s Title IX Office. Once a report arrives in the Title IX Office, the “complainant” can request confidentiality from the perpetrator and that no university or police investigation occurs. Crucially, the University can deny both requests. 

Of the women who were sexually assaulted and did not reach out to campus resources, 30% said they didn’t do so because they did not believe that Stanford’s resources would provide them the help that they needed. Why? Because mandatory reporting protects the institution, not the person. When a university commands those who have the closest relationships with students to file a report — against his or her wishes — and directly report to a branch within the institution, it’s not a stretch to view those mandated reports as protectors of a regime, there to defuse any case deemed as a risk to the bottom line, the reputation, and the vanity of the university. 

To breaking the silence that the world’s Emily Doe’s require, we must look to culture, not law. Authority figures at Stanford — in particular, residential advisors and deans — should serve students first, and the institution second— a distant second. When only 31% of Stanford students perceive faculty and staff as being very or extremely concerned about their well-being, there’s something wrong. Very wrong. Mandatory reporting provides relief to the bureaucracy, not Emily Doe. 

To an undiscerning eye, the argument for mandatory reporting seems to make sense. Clearly, Stanford is struggling with high instances of sexual assault, and low reports to campus assisters. In the wake of the #MeToo era, the reasoning for mandatory reporting could not be any stronger: For universities to prevent, investigate and eliminate sexual assault on campus, they must, of course, first know about the problem. If victims remain silent, the university may never know that any of these horrors exist. To ensure the impossibility for a Harvey Weinstein or Jerry Sandusky to persist, higher authorities must not comply — they must account. So we must reassure victims, if and when they decide to tell the world their names, that the university will protect them, not itself. As long as mandatory reporting exists, this message will never be received by students.

If outreach increased, all students would know that CAPS, the Office for Religious Life, YWCA Rape Crisis Hotline and the Stanford University Confidential Support Team are the only Confidential University Resources on campus. 

If mandatory reporting did not exist, or the breadth of those who qualify as “responsible employees” decreased, students could feel comfortable sharing their story to any university employee without fear of losing control of when that happens and how that happens.

If university staff acted in the student’s — not the institution’s — best interests, without being compelled to force students to come forward, then more students would know that boundaries exist — boundaries chosen by themselves, not by others.

Within the first week of this year, my freshman year, I had friends go to residential advisors to confide in them about a particular situation involving sexual misconduct. The conversation started with the student asking, “If I decide to tell you something, what are you required to report?” No conversation surrounding sexual assault should ever have to start with that. We need to think in days, not seconds.

Contact Jane Belcaster at jb661131 ‘at’

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