Content warning: this article contains references to rape and sexual assault.
On Oct. 7, a woman reported that she was dragged from her office and raped in a University building.
On Oct. 8, Stanford students received an email entitled, “Update on assault report.”
As I read this email, I felt a growing and implacable sense of discomfort. Here are a few extracts from the email:
“First and foremost, DPS is actively investigating yesterday’s report, based on the limited information that is available thus far.”
“Because of the limited information currently available—”
“Second, the nature of these crime alerts can often be unclear to our community.”
“The initial report to DPS may include very little information.”
“This is why some alerts to the community, in turn, may have very little information.”
“Currently, the victim who reported being assaulted yesterday has chosen not to share information about the crime with the police at this time. This also remains the case for the August report, which remains under investigation.”
“We encourage victims of sexual violence to come forward so that law enforcement and the university can assist.”
After reading the entire email, despite my discomfort, I thought to myself, “Okay, so that’s why the University is unable to do anything.” Unable to do anything about this terrifying and extremely traumatic event. Unable to do anything about a horrifyingly similar assault case on Aug. 9.
When some of my female friends mentioned that they were feeling similar discomfort about the email, I realized that my reaction is exactly what Stanford wanted out of its students. By repeatedly emphasizing that the University simply does not have enough information to carry out any sort of justice or reforms, they place the onus onto the victim. Victims, come forward so that we can help you. Otherwise, our hands are tied.
I can’t overstate how insidious and incorrect this narrative is. There are so many essential actions that Stanford could take, but chooses to avoid. Instead, Stanford is a university that chooses to retain Vincent Barletta, a tenured associate professor who sexually assaulted and harassed his students. He has three Title IX cases filed against him — incredibly brave victims of sexual violence coming forward. Stanford is a university that chose to name a library in honor of another rapist professor, Jay Fliegelman, despite acknowledging that he sexually harassed his student. Stanford is a university that chose to expel only two students for sexual assault in its entire history.
I have several friends who were victims of sexual violence at Stanford and did not take their cases to Title IX. They do not trust a process that is ostensibly slow, obscure and prolongs survivors’ trauma instead of fighting for their safety. 71% of undergraduate women and 81% of transgender and gender nonconforming students are concerned that Stanford officials would not conduct a fair investigation if someone were to report a sexual assault at Stanford. This is a colossal institutional failure.
Despite these continual failures, Stanford chooses to shirk blame and silence our anger. Last year, ResEd removed posters protesting Stanford’s systemic failures in addressing sexual violence, calling the posters “terribly harmful to members of our community” and “antithetical to the type of supportive environment we are trying to cultivate and sustain at Stanford.” Do you know what is terribly harmful to members of our community, Stanford? Do you know what is antithetical to a supportive environment? Your failure to address the fact that rape happens here. Your inaction. Your silencing.
“As we always do, we recommend taking steps to provide for your personal safety. Be aware of your surroundings; carry a cell phone to connect quickly with 911 if you are concerned about a situation, or use one of the blue emergency towers placed around campus to do so.”
After we read the August crime alert, my friends and I immediately ordered pepper spray. We knew that it was up to ourselves to protect ourselves. In class, keychains thrown casually on desks feature pom poms, trinkets and self-defense weapons. This should not have to be our campus norm.
Even if we choose to take Stanford’s word that they are essentially unable to investigate the recent assaults, Stanford’s hands are not tied. Here are several easy measures that Stanford could take without delay to protect students:
– Publicizing self-defense classes and reinstating evidence-based programs against sexual violence
– Building more blue boxes which must be consistently functional. One out of order is too many
– Strongly lighting all areas of campus from sunset to dawn
– Funding the Confidential Support Team
– Consulting with survivors and sexual violence experts to rethink Stanford’s Title IX processes
– Instituting comprehensive consent education in mandatory curriculum
This is so cheap, Stanford. This is so cheap. Even instituting just one of these measures could help prevent another person’s life from being permanently scarred.
The “Safety Recommendations” that Stanford does offer us, from the original crime alert:
“We are all responsible for each other in addition to ourselves.”
My friends and I should not have to keep each other on call as we bike home at night through Stanford’s campus. We should not have to have our thumbs on the trigger of pepper spray while walking home from a party. Stanford “endeavors to promote a culture of community accountability” to paper over their continuous, willful and systemic failures to protect members of the Stanford community.
“Upstanders have the power [to] stop assaults and to get help for people who have been victimized.”
Stanford has the power to stop assaults and to get help for people who have been victimized. Stanford could make steps towards this direction, but instead pushes responsibility onto students and community members to both “stop assault” and help victims. In many cases, there is no way for any individual, let alone an untrained individual, to do either of these things. Stanford is trained. Stanford has so many resources. Where is Stanford in this statement?
When will Stanford choose to step up and stop forcing the onus onto survivors and students? When will Stanford choose our safety over its self-protection? When will survivors be heard? When will we finally feel safe on your campus, Stanford? When will you finally take accountability? When will you finally take action?