Increased police presence fails to prevent sexual violence, say students, faculty

Nov. 10, 2022, 11:18 p.m.

This article includes references to sexual assault and harassment.

The plan was to make campus safer. Following two sexual assaults within two months and outrage from the community, Stanford administrators pledged to improve physical security by addressing concerns about lighting and video monitoring as well as increasing patrols. But instead of helping, students and faculty allege they have made things worse.

Patrick Dunkley, Vice Provost for Institutional Equity, Access & Community, and Laura Wilson, Department of Public Safety (SUPDS) director, announced the school would be “temporarily expanding the presence of security staff on campus” in response to reports of sexual assault, in an Oct. 10 email to the community. The move was “intended to help deter any criminal activity,” Dunkley and Wilson wrote.

Sierra Davis, a political science Ph.D. student, told The Daily the increase had not had the intended effect. After she was sexually harassed in Main Quad by a man whom she described as matching the description from this campus-wide update, she had “a bad encounter with the police” which left her shaken. Fleeing the man, who she said aggressively propositioned her, called himself “King Tut” and forcefully instructed her to have sex with him twice despite her asking him to leave her alone, Davis approached nearby campus security.

“I got into the roundabout and tried waving my arms and yelling, ‘I need help, please. Please stop!’ The first officer seemed upset and dismissed me with a hand wave and drove around me, [so did] the other three.”

Davis said that she had to physically put her bike in front of a fourth car before campus security actually stopped, and even then she felt dismissed. The officer cut her off and said they had already received a report of the situation. “He just was like, well, we’ll go over there and just left and then I started bawling my eyes out because I felt like I’d been super dismissed,” Davis said.

The officer didn’t note her contact information or offer any support, telling her instead to “just go home,” Davis said.

After meeting her husband and returning home to their children, Davis described feeling saddened and shocked that the police had failed to take her seriously. “What if I had been raped and they’d just dismissed me?” she asked.

Other students feared similar treatment and worried that more patrols on campus would create an increased threat from the police themselves.

Amira Dehmani ’24, Undergraduate Senate co-chair, introduced a bill on Oct. 13 requesting “the University revoke its decision to increase security personnel on campus in accordance with student concerns about the dangers and effectiveness of heightened campus security presence.”

Luke Lamberti ’24 spoke strongly in favor of the bill during the Senate meeting.

“Increased police presence makes students, particularly students of color, queer students and queer students of color feel more unsafe because of the risk of police harassment [and] the risk of racial profiling,” he said in an interview with The Daily.

Both Lamberti and Dehmani pointed to a 2019 Stanford report that showed that the vast majority of sexual assaults take place in dorms and other spaces not patrolled by campus security and questioned the rationale behind adding new officers.

Dunkley, speaking to the Faculty Senate days later, said that “the increased patrols were added to address community concerns over the most recent [sexual assault].” Dehmani and other student leaders said they were not consulted about the decision ahead of time and suspected student voices were not factored into the administration’s actions.

“I’ve heard absolutely nothing from the university about this,” Dehmani said. “And you would think that they would want to talk to their student government about this. I have not heard of them talking to affected communities at all.” When asked about the lack of communication, the University declined to comment.

According to Paco Polar ’23, a member of Abolish Stanford, the University “doesn’t seem particularly interested in what students have to say.”

“It just feels like we keep articulating the same very common sense arguments, and we keep getting ignored. And it’s not just us,” Polar said. “We have heard tons of people expressing a reduction in their feeling of safety and fears of harassment by police since the increase of security.”

Dunkley and Wilson acknowledged “that interactions with law enforcement or security personnel can be a concern or a source of anxiety for some members of our community.”

“We want to assure you that this temporary expansion will involve close attention to ensuring that security staff have an understanding of anti-bias protocols and procedures,” they wrote. The University did not respond to questions about what specific anti-bias protocols and procedures were in place and whether security personnel had guidance for interacting with students.

Stanford Law professor and survivor advocate Michelle Dauber sharply criticized administration for what she described as changes made only for appearance’s sake.

“I think that they don’t want to do the hard things that need to be done,” she said. “To me, it makes no sense not to expel students who commit sexual violence, or remove faculty who commit sexual harassment or sexual violence, [but] they’re very reluctant to do that.”

According to the ASSU resolution, there have been “over 1000 reports of sexual violence on Stanford’s campus, but only one case has resulted in an expulsion [since 2015.]” Daily reporting found that several faculty with Title IX misconduct accusations continue to teach and even students who go through the Title IX process find it difficult to enforce its rulings.

University spokesperson Dee Mostofi wrote in a statement to The Daily that “As Provost Drell discussed at the faculty senate, we continue ongoing efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence and ensure campus security. For example, the ‘Beyond Sex Ed’ program required for all frosh, and the ‘Above and beyond Sex Ed’ program for all sophomores, juniors, and seniors.”

Dauber, though, claims programs like Flip the Script, which she called “the only sexual violence prevention program that has empirically validated results,” have not been prioritized or fully funded.

The University did not respond to questions about how many additional campus security personnel had been added or how long they would remain on campus. Sexual assaults were reported in last week’s police blotter, the previous week’s, and that of the week before that.

Theo Baker is the Vol. 263 Spotlight Investigations Editor. A frosh from Washington, D.C., he is the youngest ever recipient of a George Polk Award. Contact [email protected] for encrypted email. Find him on Twitter @tab_delete.

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