Widgets Magazine


The Difference between Sexual Assault and Power Outages

If you have received four copies of an identical AlertSU message or “updates” that tell you nothing about an emergency, then you know that the AlertSU system has some problems. I like to be informed, but what I like least are instances like this:

On February 14, 2014, Campus Security Authority notified the Stanford Police Department that a male may have sexually assaulted a female student in a residence located in the 1000 block of Campus Dr. (Sent Feb. 15, 2014)

On May 7, 2014, a Campus Security Authority notified the Stanford Police Department that a female student had reported that a male acquaintance had sexually assaulted her on May 5, 2014 while they were in a vehicle parked near the intersection of Lomita and Santa Teresa. (Sent May 8, 2014)

A female reported that on Wednesday morning (9/19/12) at approximately 6:53 am, while running south on Alma near Palo Alto Ave (in Palo Alto), an unknown male suspect grabbed her breasts and then tried to pull her into the bushes. (Sent Sept. 20, 2012)

Everyone can agree that sexual assault is never acceptable. But on a deeper level, we should disagree with Stanford’s rhetorical means of reporting it.

These emails are clearly cookie-cutter, and copy-and-pasting text has two clear issues. Firstly, it shows that these events are recurrent enough that that the University can just cycle through old emails and change the dates and locations. That should be enough of an alarm to us. What’s even more alarming, though, is that it shows that the University doesn’t even care enough to take the time to write new emails for every assault.

But even worse than sending cookie-cutter emails is sending a single cookie-cutter compilation:

On February 26, 2014, a Campus Security Authority notified DPS that a female student had reported that a male acquaintance sexually assaulted her on February 21, 2014 at an undisclosed private residence on campus.

On March 2, 2014, a female student reported to DPS that an unknown male, possibly a student, gave her a drink which she believes may have contained a substance which caused her to become extremely dizzy and vomit.  The incident occurred on March 2, 2014 at a student residence on the 700 block of Santa Ynez.

On March 4, 2014, a Campus Security Authority notified DPS that a female had reported that a male student had sexually assaulted her on February 27, 2014 at a student residence on the 500 block of Alvarado Row.  According to the victim, the perpetrator used significant force during the assault, including choking her. (Sent March 5, 2014)

Sent the day after only the third of these events, why are there not emails on the 27th and the 3rd as well? Again, this seems a sign to me that sexual assault is a secondary crime to the University. Not only does sexual assault not merit a same-day email like a gas break — 16 emails were sent this year about just two leaks — a power failure or a bomb threat, but it does not even merit individual emails to report each crime.

This year, of eight sexual assaults reported through AlertSU, only one occurrence warranted a same-day response from AlertSU, with the average response time being two days. Excepting non-armed robberies, AlertSU sent out same-day emails for every crime other than sexual assault.

AlertSU makes power outages and gas leaks seem more important than sexual assault. Power outages slightly inconvenience people, and usually force them to do things other than be on Facebook. Sexual assault, on the other hand, does not fall under the category of “slight inconvenience.”

The last point on which I would like to briefly comment is the often seen: “The information about this incident is being reported to you in accordance with the Clery Act.” Lately, this has moved to the bottom of emails as an aside, but as recently as this February, it was included in the body.

It should speak for itself that Stanford would like to inform its student body of crimes as they occur on campus. But instead, the University seems to want to give a reason why it has to report assaults. It’s almost as if it is apologizing for wasting our time with an email, something it does not do for brush fires, backpack bombs or gas leaks. That is the rhetoric associated with cookie-cutter emails. And that is the rhetoric of waiting a week before informing students of an assault.

Stanford should report crimes as soon as they occur (so long as reporting does not hinder an investigation). Imagine if you received an AlertSU saying: “Last week, a Stanford student reported a man with a machine gun sitting outside Arrillaga Dining. Be alert and take measures to protect yourself. Stanford University does not tolerate armed gunmen on campus.”

Such an email protects no one. Yet we apply this. In the same way, reporting on Monday that there were sexual assaults Saturday night does not help people be aware of these crimes, which occur with significantly higher frequency on weekends, especially in confluence with parties.

Moreover, the University needs not say that law requires it to send out an email. The University needs to say that it sends out an email out of moral obligation and concern for student safety.

These rhetorical issues are just pieces of the broken mindset the University holds toward sexual assault. They are not the whole sexual assault psychosis, of course, but they deserve recognition and fixing.


Contact Joe Troderman at jtrod93@stanford.edu.

About Joe Troderman

Joe Troderman is a columnist for The Stanford Daily. He is a member of the class of 2016 from Canton, Mass. (it's near Boston) pursuing a major in chemical engineering. Joe is passionate about the environment and enjoys playing poor-quality improvisational music on any stringed instrument he can find. To contact him, please mail him at jtrod93 'at' stanford.edu or P.O. Box 13387, Stanford, Calif. (even if it is just ad hominem attacks on his character, it will make his day to receive a letter that isn't for car insurance or bank accounts).
  • Mike

    This really isn’t fair at all. The purpose of SUAlert is to alert the general campus population to general population hazards. For instance, all of campus ought to be alerted about a gas leak because there is a very real danger posed to a significant aspect of campus by that event. Power outage, maybe not so much, but it might still affect a significant percentage of of students who have classes/whatnot and need to adjust accordingly. Man with a gun with the Quad or suspicious backpack in Tressider? Moreorless exactly what the system is for.

    A sexual assault, be it reported Saturday or Monday, isn’t really in a similar class. While we can talk all you want about the culture a sexual assault perpetrates or whatnot, I find it very hard to argue that an instance of sexual assault (with the possible exception of the anonymous groping incident) between two people that know each other is something that immediately endangers a significant part of Stanford campus; why such things are reported through SUAlert at all is a bit baffling to me, to be honest. While I agree that the University needs to do a better job of addressing all aspects of its sexual assault policy, including communication with the student body, this problem has virtually nothing to do with SUAlert.

  • Ella

    I know at least in my case the university delayed a notification about my sexual assault because I didn’t want it to go out at all, since I wasn’t pressing charges yet (for various reasons that I’m sure the #standwithleah campaign can elucidate), and I asked that they run the details of the alert by me thoroughly at least, since they are required by law to put it out. I felt that a prompt, detailed report would alert my attacker to the fact that I had talked to the police, and since I wasn’t yet ready to take legal action, that would further endanger me. I’m not saying that this is the case with all of these, but it’s definitely more complicated than just not bothering to put out a report for several days.

  • Emily

    While sexual assault is certainly much worse than a temporary power outage, sending out an AlertSU right away isn’t the way to underscore that message.

    Knowing where a sexual assault happened, right after it happened, probably isn’t going to protect another student from being sexually assaulted. And, as another commentator pointed out, there can be situations in which victims may ask that their case not be reported on, or not be reported on in great detail.

    There are many things Stanford could be doing to show its commitment to stopping sexual assault and assuring that cases are dealt with better, but I don’t see how sending out immediate, detailed AlertSUs will accomplish that.