Widgets Magazine

Assault policy under review

The Sexual Violence Advisory Board (SVAB) and the Board on Judicial Affairs (BJA) aim to complete an evaluation of the way University officials have responded to sexual assault cases on campus since the pilot launch of the Alternative Review Process (ARP) in 2010, according to Assistant Dean of Student Life Jamie Pontius-Hogan.

The ARP is a pilot program intended to more thoroughly review accusations of sexual assault while maintaining greater confidentiality for all parties involved.

The SVAB, established in 2005, comprises of students, staff and faculty who offer advice related to campus sexual violence, relationship abuse and stalking.

The University recently lowered its standard of proof and granted sexual assault victims the right to appeal final decisions during University judicial proceedings. These changes are in response to a new set of guidelines issued by the Obama Administration in early April 2011 through the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The new federal guidelines served to specify interpretation of the Title IX law that forbids sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funds.

“This has been a major policy issue for student leaders across the nation, especially at Stanford. This was a big issue for [myself and former ASSU President Angelina Cardona ‘11] to advocate for with the administration,” said ASSU President Michael Cruz ‘12. “Out of that, after the [new national guidelines were] received in winter 2011, we have been working on other ways to aid the [ARP review] process in any way we can.”

While the University’s decision to lower the standard of proof and its establishment of an appeals process for sexual assault victims was in response to the new national guidelines, Stanford’s review of its sexual assault policy has been an ongoing process.

“A few years ago, the SVAB collaborated with the Office of Judicial Affairs (OJA) to identify areas of concern in how issues of sexual assault were being adjudicated,” Pontius-Hogan wrote in an email to The Daily.

According to Pontius-Hogan, Vice Provost Chris Griffith assembled a working group in the summer of 2009 to draft a proposal of a new process for sexual assault cases, titled the Alternate Review Process. The working group consisted of BJA members, Judicial Hearing Panelists, students and OJA staff. Pontius-Hogan said that the Board on Judicial Affairs is not involved in individual sexual assault cases, but instead “provides community voice to overarching policy.”

The working group said it examined other University policies regarding on-campus sexual assault and consulted with experts in the field of campus sexual assault policy before developing the ARP, which was implemented in April 2010. While the Office of Judicial Affairs typically manages the adjudication process for cases involving Honor Code and Fundamental Standard violations, sexual assault cases go through the ARP.

There are several differences between the ARP and OJA adjudication processes for non-sexual assault cases. The ARP process consists of four reviewers, instead of the standard six. The four reviewers comprise three students and one faculty staff. Instead of the case being heard in one session, those involved meet separately multiple times to allow for greater confidentiality.

Pontius-Hogan added that despite the changes made to the University sexual assault policy, the ARP already met the majority of the national guidelines released in April 2011.

“The ARP was put in place to address concerns of timeliness, privacy and fairness,” Pontius-Hogan said. “As we are still in the pilot stage, we are working to make improvements as we progress.”

Since the ARP’s creation, there has been a significant increase in the number of sexual assault cases reported on campus to the police. According to the 2011 Annual Security and Fire Report released by the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS), the number of reported on-campus forcible sexual assaults doubled, increasing from 10 cases each in 2008 and 2009 to 21 cases in 2010. Despite the increase in reporting to campus police, the University’s judicial process remains separate from that of the criminal justice system.

“The change to the judicial affairs process for handling reports of sexual assault/sexual misconduct does not alter the way in which police conduct criminal investigations or the criminal justice process,” wrote Chief of Police Laura Wilson in an email to The Daily. “Reports of sexual assault may be investigated through both the criminal justice system and the judicial affairs system at the same time, but they are separate and distinct processes.”

According to the report, the ARP will govern disciplinary cases involving sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and dating violence. Both the victim and the perpetrator have the right to due process under the ARP.

The Office of Judicial Affairs website elaborates further on the policies listed in the report. The website states that all reports of sexual assault must be filed with the Office of Judicial Affairs. The website also outlines the rights of the accused student. In addition, the Office of Judicial Affairs website also describes the rights of the impacted party, or the victim, as well as the rights of the witnesses, the selection process for investigators and reviewers, the investigators’ process and obligations, the reviewers’ process and obligations and the appeals process to the Vice Provost, to which both the impacted party and the responding student are entitled.

The Board on Judicial Affairs is scheduled to publish its review of the ARP by winter 2012. The review process seeks to update Stanford’s sexual assault policy by aligning the ARP with the most effective practices nationwide. Despite the University’s efforts to reform sexual assault policy on campus, Pontius-Hogan described some of the challenges remaining.

“The greatest challenges that remain are the need to have a permanent process like the ARP to adjudicate these types of cases and finding hearing panelists willing to serve on these difficult cases,” Pontius-Hogan said.