From the Community | I was sexually assaulted. Stanford didn’t keep its promises.

Opinion by Sofia Scarlat
Oct. 12, 2022, 11:47 p.m.

Content warning: this article contains references to rape and sexual assault.

I read the same campus-wide alert as you last weekend. I was at a small gathering for my friend’s birthday when the email came in, and as soon as I saw the opening line about potentially triggering content, I knew exactly what it was about. What it’s always about.

The survivor side of me did not want to know, because I did not think I was capable of handling being retraumatized by the contents of the email; but, the activist side of me, who co-leads the student group Sexual Violence Free Stanford (SVFree), knew that I needed to be informed of exactly what was in it in order to be a better representative for students.

“As required by law, a mandated reporter notified Stanford DPS that an adult female reported having been sexually assaulted by an adult male. The victim indicated she was working in her office when a man came into her office, grabbed her, dragged her into a basement, and raped her. The victim does not want to provide a statement to law enforcement about the crime at this time.”

I spent the next 48 hours in a trance, reliving the painful details of my own campus assault from more than a year ago, and of the trauma that Stanford as an institution had inflicted on me through its lack of acknowledgement and action. One thought remained constant in my mind: I know that Stanford will never recognize that they are at fault for the indescribable pain that many survivors have to learn to grasp and to live with.

Our school, as I have come to know in my two years here, has become a hunting ground for perpetrators because of deeply-rooted systemic issues in Stanford’s approach to the issue of campus rape, from the very acknowledgement of the existence of this phenomenon to the school’s lack of accountability for perpetrators. I believe the main reason why such horrific acts of rape continue to happen here, such as Friday’s assault or the previous one reported in Wilbur parking lot in August, is because Stanford has created a structure in which, at every step of the way, you as a student and as a survivor stand absolutely no chance against the institution’s power, influence, and desire to hold onto both of those things at the expense of students’ lives.

I share my full story of assault here today, for the first time in my life, because I want to make sure that everyone knows that the failures of the system are really not failures at all — they are calculated and desired outcomes for a university that relies on silencing survivors in order to protect its reputation, and the reputation of all those associated with it.

The night it happened

I would begin by offering more context for my story, but the truth is that the moments leading up to the assault do not matter all that much. They were like those before most assaults here at Stanford — assaults which activists believe to be least in the hundreds every year. It was during my freshman year. I had been at a party with all of my friends. Although my friends wanted to keep partying, I knew that I had had enough to drink and should be going home. A guy who I knew, who lived in my dorm and who was friends with many of my friends, offered to walk me home so that I would “be safe.” Instead of walking me to my room, he led me to his.

These particularities, however, don’t matter as much as the broader context of my assault: a school that, even before I enrolled or arrived on campus, was infamous for its culture of sexual assault and institutional betrayal. A school where 40% of female students will experience nonconsensual sexual contact before the end of their undergraduate career. A school of two expulsions for sexual assault in its 130+ years of history. A school for violent offenders, who want to hurt, who hate women, who always get what they want having never taken no for an answer and who know that at Stanford they can get away with it, because so many have succeeded before them.

It hurt really badly. I passed out. He did not use protection.

First interactions with Vaden and CST

The day after could have been a textbook response. I have been working in sexual violence prevention and survivor advocacy for years and knew the process very well, so I acted accordingly, robotically even. It was, however, the institutional response that I received which completely eliminated any chances of what could have been the beginning of an important healing process.

As soon as I woke up, I took a Plan B pill and called Vaden Health Center. I calmly told them that I had been raped and I listed my needs: a pregnancy test, STI testing and someone to check for any injuries. The representative on the other end of the line, however, dismissed those concerns, and instead told me to hold while they transferred me to CST — Stanford’s Confidential Support Team, a counseling service built specifically for survivors of sexual assault.

After waiting for what seemed like an eternal five minutes to the sound of elevator music, the director of CST took my call: “Would you like to do a Zoom call?”

I hung up. I knew that these first moments after an assault were critical, so I went directly to the Stanford Hospital emergency room. They, if anyone, had to know how to properly care for me and treat me, right

Stanford Hospital

In 2018, Stanford University’s President, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, signed a document stating that Stanford Hospital was going to implement changes to its sexual assault survivor intake procedures, to prevent retraumatization: there would be private waiting rooms for survivors of sexual assault; a designated site for SAFE exams (rape kits); private showers for survivors of sexual assault; and a designated nurse for the triage process, to prevent survivors from having to share their story multiple times with ER staff. These changes, according to the document, would have come into effect in 2019.

In June 2021, when I made my way into the Stanford Hospital ER, none of it was true. For an hour, I waited in the public waiting room next to a victim of a bike accident, who had skin hanging off from his face and arms. I told at least four different ER staff what had happened to me, in excruciating detail, before being taken into a room by one of the nurses, where I once again had to share the details of my assault. While the room was “private,” I could hear every conversation happening on the other side of the door, and can only imagine that my conversation, too, was audible from outside. Every single recounting just hurt me more and more.

I told multiple nurses that I hadn’t had any water or food in nearly 24 hours and felt like I was going to pass out. They told me I still could not have either of those things, as they were waiting on doing more tests. Two hours passed with no tests, no food, no water. I had told my story five times by that point and had never felt more weak — physically and mentally, starving, thirsty and crying continuously.

I was moved to a different room, where I expected to undergo a SAFE exam. A nurse gave me a fistfull of pills and one injection in the leg for STIs. Referring to my rapist, she told me that, if she could, she would “cut his dick off.” I threw up, then was brought a ham sandwich and a cup of water. I fell asleep for about an hour.

My main reason for going to the ER was that I wanted to undergo my SAFE exam/rape kit, in the event that I would want to pursue a police investigation later on. I was told that the only nurse who could do this was an hour drive away from Stanford. The ER nurse put her phone to my ear, so that I could speak to the SAFE exam nurse directly. “If you want me to come, I can get in the car right now and be there in an hour,” she said. You should have gotten in the car as soon as I walked into the hospital.

Overwhelmed, I told them that I needed to get out of there immediately. The ER staff discharged me after five hours without having ever done any tests, any rape kit, or even a brief check for any injuries. Just like Vaden and CST, the Stanford Hospital failed me too.

The AlertSU system

When I was discharged, a Stanford Resident Fellow (RF) was waiting for me in the public waiting room of Stanford Hospital. He had brought in a student for a leg injury and had been made aware of my being there after getting to the ER. He introduced himself, then proceeded to deliver another blow to my already tired and bruised body and soul: “Campus police has informed me that they are going to issue a campus-wide alert. Any moment now.”

But no one, from the RF to the ER staff who had spoken to the police, knew what was going to be in the alert. How detailed would this be? Would my dorm’s name be in it? Would our class years be in it? Would the name of the party be in it? Would mine? I kept refreshing my Outlook inbox, waiting for the email. In my mind, anything was possible. I was exposed again, naked and vulnerable.

Community Crime Alert – Reported Sexual Assault

Type of Incident: Sexual Assault

Date/Time of Incident: June 4th, 2021 (exact time unknown – timeframe begins soon after 1:30 AM)

Date Reported to DPS: June 4th, 2021 / 6:51 PM

Location: Unspecified student residence on campus

Additional Details: As required by law, a mandated reporter notified Stanford DPS that a female student reported having been sexually assaulted by a male, who is likely another student.  The male walked the female to her residence from a party prior to the assault.

I keep thinking of how many people saw this vague description and wondered if they, too, are at risk, if they might know the people involved or if they happened to have been at that same party.

Title IX and the reporting process

As a survivor advocate on our campus, I know very well that the Title IX investigation process can take many months and is generally excruciating, particularly because of Betsy DeVos-era regulations such as scrapping the maximum 60 day requirement for investigations and allowing live cross-examination of survivors by their rapists’ representatives, such as friends or family. I would have still been willing to subject myself to that, though, if only I knew that I had my school and the Stanford Title IX office by my side.

Unfortunately, I cannot think of any person that I’ve met during my two-plus years at Stanford who has had a positive experience with that office. I can tell you, though, about the many who have suffered, who have been victim-blamed by investigators, who have watched their rapists receive brief suspensions and walk at graduation: a constant reminder that their safety, wellbeing and courage do not matter even remotely as much as their rapists’ future.

Like over 70% of undergraduate women at Stanford, I had concerns about the institution’s ability to conduct a fair Title IX investigation and seek justice for me. I thought, realistically, there is no way this institution is going to change its standard practice for me. I thought, no matter how brave I am, their interests will come first, and the outcome will never be in my favor.

Wanting to protect myself from being re-traumatized by the institution’s process, I did not start a Title IX investigation. To this day, the hurt and excruciating frustration from this decision lingers with me the most: seeking justice and healing should not come with the threat of having to drop out, thoughts of suicide, or defamation lawsuits. Now, I am one less person on the annual Title IX report and one less survivor for Stanford to take responsibility for.

Re-traumatization and life on campus after

I did not go home for the summer after the assault, because I could not look my parents in the eyes. I did not know how to, when I felt like my entire being, down to its very core, had been so fundamentally changed.

In the fall of my sophomore year, I helped organize the “Stanford Protects Rapists” protest at Sophomore Convocation. Almost none of the people on stage, from the student speaker to the very president of our school, acknowledged our presence — the only mention of the protest came from Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Sarah Church, who asked us not to block the parents’ view during the ceremony. In the livestream of the event and the official photos which came out after, there is no trace of our ten-foot long banner, or of any of the scores of sophomores who were helping hold it up over the span of two hours. In the eyes of the institution, we weren’t erased — we never even existed.

Later in the year, I went to a party on campus and, while waiting in line to get in, I ended up witnessing my rapist read the mandatory “consent” banner at the entrance to the same party. I was reminded — not that I had really forgotten — how quickly people move on here, how little his life had been affected by what had happened, and how I will have to learn to just deal with frequently seeing him on my street, in my dorm, in the coffee shops I study in, in Instagram stories of events and at dinner tables with my friends.

I saw a counselor and then a therapist, trying to deal with recurring nightmares from which I would wake up crying and screaming, recalling the details of that night. None of that counseling support came from Stanford.

Over the next summer, I watched the reports of sexual assaults pile in my inbox. That kept happening in spite of the small number of people who were even on campus during that time. None of the reports or follow-up emails included any acknowledgement of the phenomenon of campus rape, or any information on how the school was going to truly deal with the roots of assault: sexism, homophobia, racism, a lack of consent and sexual education, and a long history of institutional efforts to cover up reports of sexual violence.

I came back to Stanford this quarter in a better place, more hopeful, more healthy. Two weeks into the academic year, though, I stand here, fully reminded of every way in which this school has failed me, and in which they are going to fail recent victims too. I don’t want to buy pepper spray and pocket knives. I don’t want to have to pre-plan all of my steps and be walked home by someone every night. I don’t want to cry with my friends and my RAs anymore, hurting for each other but fully knowing that we have none of the power and resources needed to stop this from happening again. And I don’t want to be told that we should “stay safe,” “be aware of our surroundings” and “intervene if we see something or know something.”

How evil do you have to be to actively show rapists that they are welcome here, and then turn to your students and tell them to start running and take cover?

This week, when I put up a poster saying that Stanford protects rapists, a professor stopped me and said that I was going to get me in trouble, because I can only post in “designated areas.” And when I called CST, angry and telling them that I am overwhelmed with outrage for how this institution has betrayed survivors, the first question I was asked was “How is this affecting your school work?”. And at any point I can walk into the DLCL building on campus and be face to face with a tenured professor who was found responsible for sexually harassing a student, and was accused by several more. And I give it a month at most before we get another email about another survivor that this school is going to fundamentally fail. I hold in me the exhaustion and pain of hundreds.

Stanford protects rapists. Actively, knowingly, willingly, and with absolutely no remorse.

Sofia Scarlat ’24 is currently a co-director for the ASSU Sexual Violence Prevention Committee and a co-leader for the student activist group Sexual Violence Free Stanford.

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