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A student’s Title IX case was closed over nine months ago. She says she’s still waiting for justice.

July 13, 2022, 5:12 p.m.

This story contains references to sexual misconduct and assault that may be troubling to some readers. The student’s name has been changed out of respect for her privacy.

The first time it happened, they had been dating for four months.

“He stuck himself inside of me and raped me,” she remembered, pausing to find the right words to recount the painful experience. “I cried for the entire night. We had a big discussion about it, which boiled down to, ‘What you did wasn’t okay. You knew that I didn’t ever want to do this; why did you?’”

Laura told The Daily that her ex-boyfriend raped her several times over the course of eight months. She had made it clear to him before that she wanted to wait to have sex, and in a conversation after the first time, she reiterated that she did not want to have sex.

But there was a second time — after one of his fraternity’s special dinners.

Almost immediately, Laura added, “He drank a little bit, and I drank a little bit, but we weren’t drunk at all.” Her remark preempted the type of questioning people who have experienced sexual violence can face when coming forward.

They had another discussion after he raped her again, and this time, he cried. He cried because, as she put it, “he raped me, and he knew it.” She then had to spend the night comforting her assaulter, she said.

But Laura wasn’t in a position to break up with him. She knew her parents would pull her out of Stanford if they found out what had happened — she said that at the time, she was at a vulnerable point in her Stanford career and was also living with her boyfriend.

After the second assault, she told him they could have sex — but only if he wore a condom. Yet often, he refused to wear one. After another big argument about it, they stopped having sex altogether. About a month later, they ended their year-long relationship in January 2020. Soon, COVID-19 lockdown started, and Laura didn’t have to see him at all.

When Laura returned to campus for spring quarter 2021 in-person, she said she saw her assaulter everywhere. His presence distressed her, and she wanted him off campus — not necessarily out of school, but away from campus spaces and away from her. In an effort to see that hope through, she would spend her next months navigating the ins and outs of Stanford’s Title IX process — only to find herself lost in a process in which she said she lacked agency, autonomy and knowledge of what was going on. 

Seeking justice

About two weeks before the 2021-22 school year began, Laura reached out to the Stanford Title IX Office and opened a case. In accordance with the University’s Title IX procedure, she said that they presented her with two options: enter a formal process, or sign an informal resolution. The formal process procedure involves an external group investigating the case to determine whether to proceed to a hearing, during which the evidence is reviewed. An informal resolution involves the parties engaging in mediation with the help of an outside party and coming together to reach a mutual agreement.

Laura chose to go the route of an informal resolution. She said she viewed this process as providing “an adequate environment for [her] to heal and grow” while “additionally [allowing] the respondent to avoid harsher consequences for his actions.”

On Oct. 7, both parties signed an informal resolution, which was provided to The Daily. The resolution required the respondent to move off-campus, barred him from coming to campus unless academically necessary, prohibited him from attending Stanford-affiliated events (both on and off campus) and required him to disaffiliate from his fraternity. The respondent remained enrolled at Stanford. Following the informal resolution, The Title IX Office closed Laura’s case.

But Laura would soon find that the respondent seldom followed the requirements of the informal resolution. 

Fourteen days later, the respondent violated the resolution terms for the first time when he attended a Stanford Women’s Soccer game. Email correspondence obtained by The Daily indicates that Title IX Coordinator and Director of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Education Office (SHARE) Stephen Chen confirmed the incident with Laura’s mother, in whom Laura ultimately confided, over a month after the violation.

At the time of the violation, Laura reached out to Chen to express concern about the respondent’s presence on campus, including by sharing that she had been informed that the respondent was still a member of his fraternity and living in its house, according to the emails. She expressed her confusion to Chen, explaining that the Title IX Office had informed her that the respondent had moved off campus the day before the game. In his response, Chen answered with an explanation of how the respondent’s plans for getting off campus had fallen through: he now planned to move out the following Monday, five days after he was originally supposed to.

“I hope that helps explain his presence on campus beyond what we were told,” Chen wrote in an email to Laura on Oct. 23.

Laura’s difficulties navigating the Title IX process are backdropped by Stanford’s nearly two-in-five sexual violence rate for undergraduate women over the course of their academic career and what many see as an already fragmented relationship between people who have experienced sexual violence and the University. The sexual violence rate was determined by a 2019 Association of American Universities survey, which also found that 56% of Stanford students believe that campus officials wouldn’t conduct a fair investigation — the percentage is 71% for undergraduate women and 81% for transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary or otherwise gender nonconforming (TGQN) members of the Stanford community. The survey also found that 52% of undergraduate women and 61% of TGQN members of the community believe that campus officials wouldn’t take the report seriously.

While the University declined to comment on Laura’s case for confidentiality reasons, Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris wrote in a statement to The Daily that Stanford encourages those who have experienced sexual harassment to contact the Title IX Office. 

“Stanford’s priority when contacted by a student with a Title IX concern is to assess any affected student’s safety and well-being,” Harris wrote. “The University is dedicated to responding quickly, appropriately, in a caring manner and in accordance with the circumstances presented.” 

In addition to confidential counseling through the Confidential Support Team (CST) and YWCA at Stanford, students may also receive academic accommodations and campus escort services, Harris wrote. She also mentioned the potential for mutual restrictions on contact between the parties, changes in work or housing locations, leaves of absence and increased security and monitoring of certain campus areas.

But for Laura, the University’s institutional support was lacking: she turned to others for help, including the resident assistants (RAs) at the respondent’s fraternity, as the respondent continued to violate the terms of the informal agreement by returning to campus, she said. 

Correspondence between Laura and two RAs shows several discussions between the three in which they tried to identify avenues of support. While one RA said that a conversation with the Title IX Office clarified that they could not get involved with the case for privacy and legal reasons, the RAs expressed to Laura that they still wanted to support her however they could. Often, she would turn to the RAs to ask whether the respondent had been seen on campus.

Still, one of the RAs, who spoke with The Daily on the condition of anonymity for fear of university retribution, said that in general, RAs are inadequately trained to address issues related to sexual assault. He said that while they have been directed to reach out to the Title IX Office in the event of an incident, communication between RAs and the Title IX Office has historically been sparse. He added that they often have to reach out to the Title IX Office multiple times to receive a response.

“There’s a disconnect between what the office sees is necessary when it comes to reaching out and what is actually necessary in practice; communication has not been strong with RAs around even closed cases,” he said.

Chen did not respond to a request for comment on communication between RAs and the Title IX Office.

Unenforced resolution

Throughout fall and winter quarter of the 2021-22 school year, Laura continued to receive reports from friends warning her that they had seen the respondent on campus, leaving her feeling unsafe. She navigated campus in fear of seeing the respondent; at one point, she asked RAs at the respondent’s fraternity if she needed to avoid the fraternity house because of the possibility of encountering him.

During this time, enforcement of the informal resolution seemed to fall on Laura and her mother, who found themselves consistently notifying Chen of the reported violations. Correspondence between Laura’s mother and Chen shows that Chen did not share any actions that the Title IX Office was planning to take. The suggestions he did provide to get the respondent off campus placed the burden on Laura and her mother. Chen said they could file a complaint about his presence on campus in violation of a university directive, but specified that it could “take months to resolve.” He added that they could also ask the Stanford Department of Public Safety to request that he be escorted off campus, but later said that they would “need to get an official stay away order from [the] General Counsel’s office before the police [would] actually remove [the respondent] from campus.”

After he had verified the respondent’s first violation, Chen wrote in an email to Laura’s mom that “it’s also important to note that that was almost two months ago, and he’s been on the East coast for most of the time since then.”

In the first weekend of December, one of Laura’s friends told Laura that they had seen the respondent at the Row house where his girlfriend lived. Chen explained that he had allowed the respondent to come back to campus for a non-academic reason to retrieve some of his belongings, a visit that would have been a violation of the informal resolution. However, he didn’t inform Laura until after the respondent had already arrived on campus and said he couldn’t explain the respondent’s presence at another residence. Laura also didn’t understand why Chen let the respondent back on campus in the first place: he could’ve just as easily gotten somebody to get his belongings and bring them to him, she said.

While Chen ultimately told Laura’s mom that the Title IX Office could request a stay away order, he added that the order likely wouldn’t be completed in the next few hours and by then, the respondent would have already left campus. He did not discuss the order’s potential implications for future breaches. 

Referring to this particular violation and Chen’s response, Laura wrote, “[Chen] didn’t care that the respondent was on campus and was (seemingly) mad that I was having friends tell me to stay away from certain areas so I didn’t run into my assaulter.”

She said she felt helpless every time she brought up a violation to the Title IX Office, only to be met with unclear answers that left her still wondering how the office was going to enforce the resolution. “I [wanted the Title IX Office] to do more things to punish [the respondent] or basically incentivize him to stop coming to campus and stop breaking these terms that he signed,” she said.

While Stanford’s Title IX Procedure outlines the process of coming to an informal resolution, it does not include information on how such resolutions are enforced. Chen did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment on the incident or on what pathways exist for complainants when a respondent violates the terms of an informal resolution.

Law professor Michele Dauber, who declined to comment on a specific student matter, wrote in an email to The Daily that she has “long had concerns about whether informal resolutions sufficiently protect survivors.”

“In my view it is essential that Stanford’s processes are clear and transparent so that survivors know how an informal resolution will be enforced before they agree to it,” Dauber wrote.

Dauber also stressed the importance of investigating alleged violations of informal resolutions and adjudicating them swiftly and in ways that “protect the rights of survivors”. She suggested that the University take measures such as “ensuring that all decision makers are trauma informed, utilizing the preponderance of the evidence as the burden of proof and providing needed legal assistance and other supports and accommodations.”

Midway through winter quarter, Laura said, the Title IX Office began the process of formally charging the respondent for violating the informal resolution. However, they informed her that her case was being passed to the Office of Community Standards (OCS), where it took a new form as a case regarding a breach of a university directive.

Laura explained that her frustration grew when her case got handed to OCS. “Every single time that I would ask for updates, [the Title IX Office] would say we don’t know because we’re not a part of that office,” she said, explaining that she was no longer the complainant in the case — the Title IX Office was.

Because she wasn’t the complainant, Laura said that she couldn’t submit evidence or control anything about the case. She feared that she wouldn’t get the opportunity to advocate for herself. 

When asked to clarify policies surrounding complainants in OCS cases, Harris wrote that “others harmed by the alleged behavior can request to become a co-complainant in an OCS concern, thereby securing all the responsibilities and privileges of a complainant.” She added that all parties are afforded rights in accordance with Stanford’s Student Judicial Charter of 1997.

In an email to The Daily on behalf of Harris, Jennifer Calvert, Student Affairs Chief of Staff, explained that individuals or groups wishing to become co-complainants should make that request directly to OCS. However, this option is not specifically outlined in either the Student Judicial Charter or the OCS website as of the date of publication.

An OCS process may involve one reporting party or multiple reporting parties. The party that files a concern with OCS is considered the Reporting Party. If another individual (or individuals) wishes to become a Reporting Party in the same incident of reported conduct, then they can make that request directly to OCS.

The respondent was also slated to graduate in winter 2022, and the informal resolution terms were set to expire upon his graduation — “not that they really did anything,” Laura said. Currently, Laura said, the respondent is not listed under Stanford’s student profiles, however it is unclear if that indicates he is no longer at the University.

The University did not clarify whether not having a student profile indicates that the respondent is no longer a student.

Finding safety

As of now, Laura said she has not been informed of any result from the OCS case. In the meantime, she is seeking a permanent restraining order from the county, which can last between three and five years, citing inadequate protection from the University. Her trial is set for later this month. Until then, a temporary restraining order (TRO) that Laura got in late February (and extended in late March) will remain in place, requiring the respondent to stay off of the Stanford campus and at least 300 yards away from her at all times. Laura said that since the TRO went into effect during winter quarter, the respondent has stopped violating the informal resolution.

“I finally feel safe on campus,” she said.

Laura will be representing herself in her trial for the permanent restraining order, as she did in February and March for the temporary order. The respondent, however, has retained a lawyer.

Although Stanford provides legal resources for Title IX procedures, Laura no longer has access to them because her Title IX case is closed.  

Harris wrote that the University’s “professional staff remain in close contact and accessible to students throughout the Title IX and any related processes, including any hearings and discussions regarding informal resolutions, and continue to offer supportive measures as needed.” 

In late March, Stanford Title IX attorney Susan Stark, who represented the respondent during the Title IX process, informed Chen of the respondent’s intent to file a concern with OCS, saying that Laura’s filing of a restraining order is a violation of the informal resolution, which states that “both parties will not have any further contact with one another and agree not to pursue any further formal actions related to incidents arising from their past relationship.” 

In email correspondence reviewed by The Daily, Chen explained to Laura that the respondent would be willing to withdraw the OCS case if Laura stopped pursuing a restraining order and was open to modifying the informal resolution to apply even after he graduates. “The practical effect would be similar to a restraining order,” Chen wrote. He added that “the respondent is taking the informal resolution more seriously, so there may be reason to believe that he would abide by the terms going forward,” though he did not elaborate on any observed behavior that led to this belief.

Laura, however, decided to continue pursuing the restraining order.  

In early April, Chen informed all parties involved over email that they would communicate directly with OCS going forward, instead of the Title IX Office. Since then, Laura hasn’t heard anything about the OCS complaint, concluding that it is likely the respondent didn’t pursue it. But, she said it was clear that he and Stark wanted to discourage her from pursuing the restraining order by threatening a complaint. 

Stark did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment regarding her involvement in the case.

‘I should have just done the formal process’

“Had I known [all this would happen], I would have just gone through the formal process,” Laura said.

She chose to go with an informal resolution because she wanted to resolve the case quickly. But despite choosing the informal route, her process has already spanned over ten months. “I should have just done the formal process. That might have gotten me a better outcome,” she said.

While Laura said that a recent conversation with Chen has given her the impression that the Title IX Office is looking into making changes to their informal resolution policies as a result of her case (Chen did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment on such developments), Laura remains concerned that others seeking justice through the Title IX Office will have to go through a similar ordeal. 

She recommended that students who have experienced sexual violence reach out to the YWCA at Stanford, a program of YWCA Golden Gate Silicon Valley that provides “confidential support to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, stalking, and sexual harassment.” Lindsey Mansfield, the Director of Support Services at YWCA Golden Gate Silicon Valley, explained that the YWCA team connects with survivors to help them determine the best resources for their situation. “Each resource or course of action we discuss is guided by what the individual wants to focus on,” she wrote.

For those seeking legal recourse, Mansfield said the YWCA recommends the Associated Students of Stanford Legal Counsel Office. For off-campus support, they often refer survivors to the Santa Clara County Family Justice Centers or Self-Help Center.

For individuals who want to remain anonymous, the YWCA recommends the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network hotline numbers and online chatting, according to Mansfield.

Another resource available to members of the Stanford community includes Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) testing, which is available at Stanford Hospital.

“I just hope that other survivors are more aware of the failings of the Title IX process and are able to make a better-informed decision,” Laura said.

Julia Biswas is a writer for the News section. Contact her at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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