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OPINIONS

Stanford Drops the Ball on Sexual Assault Case

Dear Stanford,

Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I am a Stanford alum and this is a letter to the people in power at Stanford in support of brave Leah Francis, an undergraduate student who decided to speak about a painful experience and take action.

My organization, the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness, was hired by Stanford to run a DOJ Office of Violence Against Women grant from 2006-2011. The Center decided to stop working with Stanford in 2011 largely due to the fact that the people in power at Stanford continued to prioritize liability over student safety. They failed to recognize that avoiding liability is achieved by properly responding to sexual assault and dating violence cases. Instead, the University has improperly focused on avoiding being sued by a student found responsible for perpetrating these acts.

The Center wrote the proposal to establish the Office of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse (SARA) in hopes that an official office would lead to greater change, but until the SARA office reports directly to the Provost or President of the University, we will continue to see ineffective and inadequate responses to these issues. This office needs to have the power to ensure that all decision makers, including ARP reviewers and top administrators, are properly trained to stop blaming victims and start holding people who choose to rape accountable.

My hope is that a Fundamental Standard at any university does not exist in vain. It is important to distinguish Stanford University’s Office of Community Standards (OCS) from the United States justice system. It is not a court of law. The OCS administers the student judicial process for Stanford by which students are held accountable for adhering to established community standards. In cases of sexual assault and dating violence, reviewers are asked to determine if a student violated the Fundamental Standard which states “Students at Stanford are expected to show both within and without the University such respect for order, morality, personal honor and the rights of others as is demanded of good citizens. Failure to do this will be sufficient cause for removal from the University.”

In Leah Francis’s case, the reviewers found the student responsible for violating the fundamental standard and for sexual assault through force. They found him responsible for forcing himself inside a woman who was so intoxicated that, not only could she not give consent, she could not remove her tampon. Women do not consent to sex when there is a tampon inside them because it will penetrate their cervix, which is what happened to Leah. For the people who are victim-blaming out there, you must see that most men do not try to have sex when their friend, or ex-girlfriend, or girl-friend, is not able to give consent. They bring their friend a glass of water and some crackers and they sleep in another room. So the question is why Stanford wants to give a degree to a student who raped a fellow classmate who came to him for help; who came to him because she thought he would provide a safe place for her to sleep.

In his book, Macho Paradox, Jackson Katz quotes Doug Flutie, a college and national football star: “There’s nothing better than excelling at a game you love. There’s nothing worse than thinking your accomplishments as a player outweigh your responsibilities as a person.” There’s nothing worse than thinking your accomplishments as a student outweigh your responsibilities as a person. I am asking the people in power at Stanford to consider this as they craft a response to the legitimate public outcry they are witnessing. The Fundamental Standard exists because you believe that your mission is not just to produce number-crunching geniuses. Your mission includes the joy of contributing to the development of well-rounded human beings who have the intelligence and integrity to change the world.

This mission includes accountability. Holding people accountable for sexual violence and relationship abuse provides the person who has committed an act of cruelty on someone else with an option to make a different decision that doesn’t harm fellow human beings; because he will know there are consequences. Holding people accountable ensures that fewer people in this place that students call home for four years will harm their friends; because they will know there are consequences. Holding people accountable ensures that young women like Leah can continue feeling proud of being part of the Stanford community; because they will know that Stanford does not blame victims and stands by its expectations that students treat each other with respect.

I am asking you, people in power at Stanford, to read this, not with anger, or defensiveness, but with awareness of your own opportunity to stand up and do what’s right. Rather than justify your mistake in this particular case, or other cases, apologize. Ask the legal office to craft an apology that doesn’t expose you to further liability, but apologize in earnest. Apologize for telling a perpetrator that you value his degree more than you value safety and justice for a victim who is also trying to obtain a degree in the face of lifelong pain. Apologize and then do something about it. Not just for the sake of checking a box to show you tried. And give permission to the Stanford community to speak truth to you without fear of being shut out of the community. Again, Martin Luther King: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but [s]he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” There are people in power at Stanford whose conscience is telling them to speak out. I hope you do.

Sincerely,

Nicole Baran, ’00, ’01

 

Contact Nicole Baran at nbaran@stanford.edu.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t read the details of the story, but given the details in this article I will say: they should both be expelled. She should be expelled for getting so trashed that she couldn’t handle herself. He should obviously be expelled for taking advantage of her when she was this drunk.

    I don’t think there’s any excuse for getting so drunk and putting yourself in a situation like this. It is unbecoming of a Stanford student, and she should be expelled. We don’t know what went on during this event, but someone who is very drunk may initiate sex and push for it – and not have any recollection of it. They might not even appear to be very drunk: some people hold their alcohol well, yet may not even remember anything the next day. Furthermore, a woman may forget she is wearing a tampon – especially if she pushes the string up and she is coming off her period.

    I am not condoning what the guy did in any way – he is a douchebag for having sex with a woman who was obviously drunk, and should be expelled immediately. But this does not give the woman an excuse. We hold drunks responsible for things that happen due to their drunkenness – it’s time we women took responsibility for ourselves enough to not get so drunk where we lose our sense of what’s going on around us.

  • stanford2014

    Are you fucking serious? So you’re telling me women should never get drunk in a room full of men because they would have no choice other than to rape her? Whether people should get overly intoxicated is entirely separate from this issue. I should be free to get as drunk as I want as long as I don’t harm other people or property, it’s my body. But that doesn’t mean I’m at fault when someone else decides to violate my rights and rape me. Your idea of blaming the victim is so off base I just can’t comprehend what kind of terrible human being could honestly think like that.

  • someideas

    Stanford is handling this case as well as they can at this point. Stanford could be sued by the alleged rapist, since he has not been charged by the Juneau DA even though the alleged incident happened in Juneau in January.

    We have a court system to handle criminal cases and our universities should not be used to try cases when victims feels they did not get the outcome they wanted in our court/judicial system.

    Stanford, Leah, and the alleged rapist are privy to the facts in this case and the rest of us are just speculating. I think too many people are willing to “convict” the alleged rapist and hand out a punishment without the DA in Juneau charging him and without a trial.

    The facts we know are:
    The alleged incident
    happened off campus (in Alaska) over break

    The prosecuting attorney
    in Juneau has not filed charges from the January 1, 2014 alleged attack.

    If the alleged rapist was a Cal, UCLA, Florida State, etc., student
    he would be allowed to graduate and go to graduate school. The punishment
    Stanford gave to the alleged rapist does not allow him to receive his degree
    for two years and therefore he cannot go to grad school and it will be
    difficult for him to find a job. The alleged rapist is being punished and
    humiliated without being convicted of a crime.

    I think Stanford has to be very careful and could be sued by
    the alleged rapist since the Juneau DA has not filed any changes against the
    alleged rapist. Other universities are being sued by students who believe they
    have been wrongfully punished.

    If Stanford is going to punish off campus out of state
    incidents, then why isn’t Stanford punishing Leah for being so drunk that she
    passed out? Leah could have died and/or ended up in a ditch or worse. Based on
    Leah’s own words, she clearly violated Stanford’s alcohol policy.

    Let our court system handle criminal cases and let our
    universities handle misconduct cases. IF the alleged rapist is found guilty of
    rape then he will go to prison and at that point Stanford can expel him from campus.

  • Anon

    Pls the OP didn’t say, “lol look it’s all the girl’s fault.” S/he said they are both at fault and should be expelled, which makes sense. Stanford doesn’t need rapists or people who are so irresponsible with their drinking habits when there are plenty more deserving and righteous people who didn’t make it in because of the space taken up by these people who can’t even make basic proper life decisions.

  • Alex

    It is legal to get trashed. It is not legal to rape. To compare them is insane. This is victim-blaming of the worst variety, and is indicative of the rape culture that we live in.

  • stanford12

    I hope Stanford doesn’t accept people who think that rape is the fault of the victim, and not the fucking rapist.

  • Anon

    I hope Stanford doesn’t accept people who jump to conclusions the moment the word fault is mentioned. “Oh you said fault! You must be putting all the blame on the victim!” when it was CLEARLY stated that BOTH are at fault, and not that of one person. Elementary school reading comprehension please.

  • George

    Elementary school reading?! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Both are NOT at fault. That’s the point. When you say both are at fault then you say that the victim is partially to blame (i.e. “blaming the victim”). Just because this may not have happened if the victim wasn’t drunk doesn’t mean that the victim shares any of the blame. If you get hit by a car that speeds through a red light the same thing is true: you wouldn’t’ve been hit if you weren’t there, but that doesn’t mean that you have ANY fault.

  • anonymous

    Again, an irresponsible post by somebody who has no understanding of student rights. Do you understand that this student, whether or not he has committed sexual assault, has a number of rights under the ARP? You cannot simply say that you do not agree with these rights: they are part of a contract between the alleged perpetrator and the student. It is unreasonable that you would suggest that this student’s rights be sacrificed. Not only is this a bad idea from a legal point of view, but it also goes against any reasonable kind of justice.

    This is tiring for me… hearing again and again from students that Stanford should disrespect student rights. What is even worse: we do not even know all of the information about this case. We have heard again and again from a single side of this case, and have had no information from the other side. It baffles me that my fellow students are so uncritical that they would jump onto a bandwagon without hearing both sides of the case. Human interactions are not as simple as you make them out to be–please understand this. It is an aspect of maturity that, apparently, most of the Stanford community does not appreciate.

  • Pau La

    The problem with saying that “both are at fault” is that it detracts focus from the perpetrator. What the perpetrator did was highly illegal and it caused suffering for the victim. Aside from it being not becoming of an infallible Stanford student (seriously? I suppose you live in a bubble), what the victim did was neither illegal, nor did she put anyone at harm except herself. And when I say at harm, I mean depressing her central nervous system and not being trashed in front of a man she trusted. Just because I set down my backpack on a chair, doesn’t legitimize that anyone steals it.

  • Pau La

    The perpetrator’s rights aren’t being violated since you agree to enroll under the condition that Stanford reserves the right to expell you, revoke their admissions decision etc. The perpetrator does not have the right to graduate from Stanford, he has the privilege, just like any other student.

    The victim, however, has the right to a save campus environment under Title IX.

  • Malena

    Getting that drunk is against the Stanford’s standard and is reason enough for expelling the student. Both were drunk and had sex. Either both get expelled or none of them.
    Just because men are expected by females to “control” the situation, it doesn’t mean females can take advantage of that to blame the male only. Men are expected to initiate everything, guide the woman, be on top, etc. This allows feminazis to make false rape allegations by taking the passive role that their sexist society gives them and using it to put themselves in the passive victim position.

  • Malena

    Just because what you sign says Stanford can do whatever they want, you cannot assume that is a legal agreement. Most agreements are not legally binding. However, if you assume that’s true, then Leah should be expelled because of drinking in risky situations too. She doesn’t have the right to graduate from Stanford. She has the privilege, just like any other student.

  • Pau La

    Stanford has no standard on how drunk anyone can get. Stanford does have an honor code that forbids students to harm other students on or off-campus, and Stanford, just like any other university, is obligated under title IX to aid victims of sexual assault.

    The rest of that statement is pure misogyny. This isn’t a case of rape, because Leah expected him to take control or be on top. This is rape because the perpetrator decided to rape another person.

  • Pau La

    Yes, Leah does have the privilege to graduate and there is no reason to take that privilege away from her. Drinking is not an offense, even if YOU deem it to be morally irresponsible. Fortunately, your opinion doesn’t matter.

    And yes, these agreements are indeed binding. Stanford wouldn’t write in their admission folders that they reserve the right to expel you if they didn’t reserve the right to expel you. Watch them do it.

  • Malena

    Stanford does have a standard on how drunk someone can get while having sex. Since Stanford claims while being drunk no consent can be given, then Leah is in clear violation of the honor code for getting naked and invading a guy’s private space while he is unable to consent to such actions.
    This is a case of sexual assault because while the guy was drunk, his girlfriend got naked and into his bed without legal consent. That is in clear violation of the standard and she should be expelled.

  • Malena

    Leah got naked and in the bed of a guy who was legally intoxicated with alcohol. That is clear sexual misconduct and is not tolerated in the Stanford student honor code. (unless you’re female, apparently, then it is tolerated, but shouldn’t be)

    Stanford cannot reserve the right to expel you arbitrarily when the basis to make that decision is sexism. What a contract says is not the same as what the law is. The fact that you don’t even understand that difference shows how clueless you are about the legal system, justice and ethics.