Widgets Magazine


At Stanford, weak sanctions for sexual assault leave survivors as victims

Sexual assault on college campuses, a topic normally surrounded by a culture of silence, has become headline news. This is a national issue, and Stanford, while idealized as a palm-lined paradise, is not exempt from reality: sexual assault happens everywhere. Although Stanford has avoided the federal investigations and public scrutiny directed at other institutions, our university’s policies regarding sexual violence are just as critically flawed. As one survivor expressed to me, “When Stanford told me how it was sanctioning the man it found responsible for forcibly sexually assaulting me, I felt totally helpless.”

The Stanford Alternate Review Process (ARP) is Stanford’s process for adjudication regarding student on student altercations, but most students found responsible for sexual assault by the ARP have not faced any significant consequences for their actions. According to tenured Stanford Law professor Michele Dauber, head of the Board of Judicial Affairs from 2011-2013, between 2005 and 2011, nine students were found responsible for sexual assault and one student was expelled. The other eight students received suspensions ranging from 1-8 quarters, sometimes including other restrictions such as housing bans, mandatory education and/or community service.

Professor Dauber believes that “expulsion is the appropriate sanction for sexual assault, unless there are highly unusual mitigating circumstances. The purposes of the Fundamental Standard and the Penalty Code can only be carried out if there is accountability.” I agree and believe that the only way to hold students accountable is to expel those parties found responsible for forcible sexual assault.

We have a problem of sexual assault here. A survey presented to the Faculty Senate in 2013 noted that out of the 175 reported sexual assaults between 1997 and 2009, only four students chose to pursue cases for evaluation by Judicial Affairs (now known as The Office of Community Standards), and only in two of those cases was the accused party found responsible.

Stanford’s current ARP, supposedly meant to improve accountability, is a drastic but toothless improvement. In general, the channels presently available to student survivors seeking penalties for their accused assailants include filing cases with the ARP and/or under Title IX. But at Stanford, the only way to discipline a responsible party is to file a case with ARP. A student cannot be suspended or expelled through Title IX at Stanford because of the Student Judicial Charter, which provides a specific judicial process prior to any and all disciplinary action, relegating survivors to the ARP if they want to see their accused attackers penalized in any way.

Despite a parallel increase in the number of ARP cases and parties found responsible, most students found to have committed sexual assault or misconduct are allowed to complete their education with illusory and mostly confidential consequences. It is no surprise to me that a survivor would question going through the ARP, a difficult and lengthy ordeal that delivers only the legal equivalent of a slap on the wrist – even in cases of forcible rape. In addition to going through the trauma of having their stories picked apart and questioned, survivors are expected to be high-performing students at a rigorous institution, oftentimes knowing that even if the responding party is found responsible, that student will still have the privilege of attending and graduating from Stanford. One ARP case, currently underway, has already taken Stanford more than twice the 60-day ARP timeline recommendation to resolve. That case has lasted about five months, spanned two quarters and derailed the academic life of the rape survivor involved. I will not attempt to put into words the emotional toll shouldered by survivors of sexual assault.

Students who are found responsible and are allowed to reintegrate back into the Stanford community threaten the safety of the student survivor as well as other members of the Stanford community. A student found responsible for sexual assault could be sitting next to you in lecture or mixing you a drink on Friday night. The responsible party’s confidentiality is protected, while the survivor and other members of the community are not. Students need to be held accountable for their actions because only through accountability can a person responsible of sexual assault understand that what they did was wrong.

So what’s being done about this? It takes engaged student leadership, responses to Federal Policy and the adoption of the best practices spearheaded by universities moving to increase student safety. At Stanford, the ASSU has committed a task force to make sexual assault education a key issue of importance and is looking to work with other student groups to brainstorm new and stronger policies for student and campus safety. Dartmouth has enacted policies in response to those set forth by the White House Task Force, including mandatory expulsion of repeat offenders, as well as first-time offenders in cases of penetration accomplished by force, threat or purposeful incapacitation. Expulsion is also strongly recommended in all other cases involving penetration. In addition to these new policies, Dartmouth has established a new resource center, and community programming educating undergraduates in bystander intervention. Peer schools are following suit and I believe that Stanford must enact serious changes as well.

It is unlikely that students who do not go through these processes currently in place at Stanford, or know someone going through them, will understand how negatively our policies impact survivors of sexual assault. I am personally learning about individual cases that I know could be handled much better with more extensive resources and more investigators, so that each case could be evaluated as carefully and quickly as possible. The Student Judicial Charter states: “All members of the Stanford community are invited to propose suggestions about modification of judicial procedures to the Board.” As a member of this community I ask that Stanford strengthen current policies and give out sanctions that reflect the magnitude of the violations committed by students found responsible for sexual assault.

Students at Columbia, Harvard and Brown have all encouraged seniors to wear strips of red tape on their graduation caps to acknowledge that there is a serious issue on their campuses and demand their respective administrations amend insufficient policies. I invite all members of the senior class to join me in wearing red tape on our caps at commencement to support survivors of sexual assault and to encourage Stanford to do the same.

Contact Rebeca Felix at rfelix@stanford.edu.

  • class of 2016

    great article, except: “even in cases of forcible rape” added for emphasis. this insinuates that rape which isn’t “forcible” is somehow less horrific

  • Jonathan Poto

    I mostly agree with the content of this article but I think that the definition of sexual assault as an umbrella term needs to be broken down in its component parts for the argument to really be meaningful in thinking about how this works on a case-by-case basis.

  • Radioedit

    I’d agree with a mandatory expulsion policy is sexual assault were defined more precisely for the purposes of the University disciplinary process. The current definition is too broad, vague, and subjective.

  • Tessa O.

    unfortunately that is how Stanford, other universities, Title IX, etc. define “aggravated circumstances” in which expulsion is recommended.

  • Radioedit

    It’s based on research showing that rapists who use overt force are more likely to be repeat offenders than those who don’t.

  • Class of 14

    Rape is a horrendous crime against another human being. A HORRENDOUS crime, and one that needs to be dealt with seriously. But the suggestions posited by this article are completely irresponsible and, if carried out, would lead to witch hunts on our campus. In fact that’s already what’s happening across the country: http://time.com/100091/campus-sexual-assault-christina-hoff-sommers/

    >”But at Stanford, the only way to discipline a responsible party is to file a case with ARP. A student cannot be suspended or expelled through Title IX at Stanford because of the Student Judicial Charter, which provides a specific judicial process prior to any and all disciplinary action, relegating survivors to the ARP if they want to see their accused attackers penalized in any way.”

    Actually, the Student Judicial Charter has no authority in sexual assault/sexual harassment cases–the ARP has authority. This article appears to push the idea that we should circumvent that process, which is already set up in favor of conviction with a Preponderance of the Evidence standard, not to mention an OCS that presupposes guilt (see http://stanfordreview.org/wp-content/uploads/small_testimonials.pdf). Rebecca, it’s *good* thing that you can’t be expelled on this campus without at least having a fair hearing in front of a jury of unbiased faculty and peers (i.e. panelists without an agenda). “Innocent until proven guilty” is a cornerstone of any fair legalistic process. It is precisely this concept that prevents us from delving into witch hunts against people without any evidence of their having committed a crime. Yes, I understand rape is a hard crime to prove, but that doesn’t mean it should be exempt from the same standards of evidence as any other type of crime–it just means it should be dealt with by trained authorities who can investigate that crime, not university administrators.

    >”One ARP case, currently underway, has already taken Stanford more than twice the 60-day ARP timeline recommendation to resolve. That case has lasted about five months”

    While I can’t speak on the specifics of this case, I can say that achieving justice can be hard, and due process is important. We should not rush to judgement, especially when we’re considering expelling a student. This does seem rather long, but there are likely mitigating circumstances about which we do not know.

    Finally, I take strong issue with your suggestion that being convicted of sexual assault should lead to expulsion. Not because I’m a “rape apologist” or because I think rapists shouldn’t be punished. No. It’s because the current system is not well-enough designed to protect the innocent. A preponderance of the evidence standard, no attorneys, no right of direct-cross examination, no exemption from double-jeopardy, and a panel often lined with activists–does this seem like a good environment in which to decide whether you should take someone’s degree away, unquestionably altering the course of their life? A degree they’ve potentially worked for 4 years to achieve and spent $200000 to receive? Absolutely. Freaking. Not.

    I for one am so glad to be leaving college in a few weeks. The situation is bad, and it looks like it’s only going to get worse before it gets any better. In the current environment, I’m scared to hook up with any girl who isn’t stone-sober and initiating sexual contact (and even in that case, I can’t help but think about how much I’m risking by even engaging in sexual activity with her–what if tomorrow she wakes up and decides it wasn’t consensual?). It’s time to end the hysteria. Stanford, I beg you, don’t listen to this dribble.

  • Thank You

    Well put. I’m always amazed at how quickly people want to throw out due process and basic common sense over emotional issues. I would encourage you to write an opposing Op-Ed

  • Read more closely my friend

    In the ARP, before anyone is ever found responsible, the responding party DOES get a fair hearing in front of students and staff who decide whether or not a party is responsible for sexual assault. I do not think the ARP should be circumvented. Nowhere in the article does it suggest changing this process. The argument is for stronger sanctions. That this article “appears to push” anything is your personal interpretation. Also: you spelled the author’s name incorrectly.

  • Sorry to hear…

    “In the current environment, I’m scared to hook up with any girl who isn’t stone-sober and initiating sexual contact.” I’m so sorry to hear that it is inconvenient for you to get consent. Rape isn’t a bad sexual experience. It isn’t about sex – it’s about power and dominating another person. Stop making this about yourself and make it about being on the same page with your sexual partner.

  • Class of 14

    Good job, you made a straw man argument on the least consequential part of my post.

    Look, I actually *am* in favor of expelling convicted rapists from Stanford–that’s not a controversial position. But by “convicted rapists,” I mean people who have been sentenced to prison by an actual jury in an actual court of law. Then you ought be expelled. But that seems somewhat of a tautology, as it’s pretty hard to go to class when you’re in jail.

    Notably, nobody who responded to my post responded to the meat of my argument, which was that campus tribunals, which provide little protection for the accused, are ill-equipped to be adjudicators of rape cases. Add mandatory expulsion to the already long laundry list of uphill battles an accused person faces and you have a recipe for absolute disaster. Again, no attorney can speak on their behalf. It takes only a 50.01% belief in guilt to convict. They have no right to direct cross-examination, “the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth,” according to John H. Wigmore. They are subject to double jeopardy. The panel pool is self-selecting, meaning it’s wrought with people who approach the matter with a preconception. And the Office of Community Standards is known to presume guilt in their handling of the process. So I ask: how is any wrongfully accused person even supposed to win?

    Finally, a big part of the issue here is this “all or nothing” attitude that will ultimately backfire on the flag bearers of this position should their suggestion ever become policy. Regardless of whether the author wishes to acknowledge it or not, there is a range of behavior that can fall under the umbrella term “sexual assault”–some of it much worse than others. If a man and a woman are both too drunk to consent and have sex anyway–barring no cues that either party wanted to stop, etc.–that is a much lesser offense than a man holding a woman down and having sex with her against her will while she says “no.” They’re crimes of varying severities, and I think–well, I would hope–that you concur on this point. Still, if we implement a blanket policy of mandatory expulsion, panels will be *less likely* to convict because they might not want to expel someone for having sex with someone they didn’t know was too drunk to consent. Having a range of punishments fits the reality that there are a range of behaviors related to sexual assault, some of them worse than others. The world isn’t as black and white as you’d like to make it out to be.

    The fact that the panels have had the option to expel, and have not utilized it to any significant capacity, reflects precisely why we should *not* push for mandatory expulsion. The panelists in these cases have, on a case-by-case basis, made a determination about what the correct punishment should be if the student is found responsible, and in very few of those cases has expulsion been appropriate. It demonstrates empirically why mandatory expulsion is a bad policy that does not comport with the reality of the issue we face.

  • Hide yo kids

    I can’t finger this one… you want to kick people out for consensual rape?

  • Tessa O.

    Rape isn’t about sex? That’s a new one. What else can you feminists come up with?

  • WV_NYC_2014

    Maybe it’s because my attempted assault followed by escalating harassment, followed by retaliation once I complained and asked to be transferred away from the harassers, happened at Columbia U, but it seems to me that Columbia U Administration, since at least 2004, is especially reluctant to address these complaints in a way that differentiates right from wrong. In my experience and that of others I am aware of, Columbia U refuses to take common sense steps that would reduce if not put a total stop to the harassment and assault detailed in complaints. More: Sometimes Columbia U seems to blindly take side of the accused, at other times it seems to blindly take side of the alleged victims; the CU response to allegations seems to depend on what the media has to say about these sorts of complaints at that moment.
    And don’t forget, as of this week 60 schools have allowed their school name to be published on The List of 55 (now List of 60) that have complaints against them filed with Federal Dept of Education – OCR. Columbia U, with 23 complaints recently filed that we are aware of, is still not named on that list. Where 1 complaint should be enough to be named, 23 should be more than enough. And then there are the several complaints filed against the school in the NY Courts over the last 12 months that are not even included in the 23 filed with Dept of Ed – OCR.

  • WV_NYC_2014

    As of victim of attempted assault followed by escalating harassment (followed by retaliation for filing complaint and asking to be transferred away from harassers) at Columbia U, I totally agree with you, i.e., The schools methods of handling complaints are ridiculous. I can only speak from my own experience at Columbia U, and from that school it is clear that from the perspective of victims and accused, the procedures are massively flawed. There doesn’t seem to be any real consideration for the people involved in the dispute; the entire focus really only being on saving the school’s public face. Complaint process needs to be removed entirely from the schools and handed over to local law enforcement, to be monitored by the federal database proposed by Senator Gillibrand.

  • Most rapists not arrested

    What you forget is that most survivors never see their assailants or rapists behind bars. Upwards of 97%, in fact. These problems are real. People in opposition of these policies say that they are not in support of rapists, but by not giving appropriate sanctions they are releasing back into the community a person who could have between 4 and 6 victims. I am shocked at how many people change their opinions of these matters when a close friend, loved one, spouse or relative is sexually assaulted or raped. Please consider the gravity of your words. I am sure that some cases may not call for expulsion. This is not meant to glorify the expulsion of students. This is meant to increase awareness. Read carefully and if you are so confident about your views put your name on your comments.

  • Class of 14

    >” I am sure that some cases may not call for expulsion. ”

    Right. Some cases don’t call for expulsion. So why advocate a policy that mandates expulsion when some cases don’t call for it?

    Again, some of the people on the panels are already predispositioned to presume guilt, and even *they* have not overwhelmingly found expulsion to be the appropriate punishment. The panelists are members of the Stanford community charged with protecting our campus–I hardly think they’d allow a student to come back to campus if they thought there was a credible threat that they would rape “between 4 and 6” more victims (an oddly specific number). Expulsion should be reserved only for the cases where there is a “beyond a reasonable doubt” belief that the student committed a heinous crime, not in he-said she-said cases where the burden of proof is 50.01%.

  • Tessa Ormenyi

    First of all, stop using my name. Second, you could’ve done us all a favor and googled “rape isn’t about sex” before you posted some insensitive, overgeneralizing, and misogynist comment. Here I’ll even do the work for you – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/29/rape-about-power-not-sex

  • read carefully

    Only certain cases are recommended by the article for expulsion. Please follow the link and read the policies put into effect by Dartmouth. You need to read more carefully, there are qualifiers for which cases call for expulsion. This is not to say that anyone who comes before the panel (and also has an option to appeal finding of responsibility by the way) should be expelled. You are applying small parts of an article to a large picture. Of course things aren’t lining up.

  • Mandatory Minimums?

    Do you understand the main argument against mandatory minimums in sentencing?

  • common sense

    You have to change the word “rapists” with “accused rapists” in everything you just said. Please recognize the rights of the accused.

  • Wat.

    “Fair hearing” now means a burden of proof as low as a preponderence of evidence and a lack of in-person cross examination.

  • accused v convicted

    [citation needed] That is to say that x number of ALLEGED rapists don’t end up in a jail cell.

  • Tracheal

    Actually rape is a relatively mild crime as serious crimes go. It’s just happens to be particularly ‘loaded’ biologically and socially. That’s why it’s tailor made for false feminist fear mongering or hate mongering.

    See Moxon’s The Woman Racket for a full discussion covering the accumulated science on the topic.

  • Candid One

    Since attempts at related legislation are now on their way via US Congresswoman Jackie Speier, this kid-gloves travesty will eventually bring some general alertness to Stanford’s academic tunnel vision. This mishandling of a situation for criminal investigation is a continuing telltale of the societal disorientation of modern elitism and the persistence of stone age sexism. How much more damning must predicaments get before Stanford’s decision makers grasp their societal disconnect?

  • concerned

    How is “sexual assault” defined in this context? If “intoxication” equals “inability to consent” equals “sexual assault”, then we’re in trouble.
    When both participants are intoxicated, how come it’s the female who is the victim?

  • brookstyle

    most alleged rapes can not be proved true or false.

  • seriouslywrong

    I think this is brilliant and hits at the real core of the issue — review processes are not biased in favor of the victim or the accused (although the results sometimes appear that way), but in favor of preserving the school’s reputation. It’s an incredibly callous way of dealing with something that so greatly affects the lives of those involved.