Survivors say ARP helps trials, but stigma still prevents open campus discussion
Trigger warning: This article deals with sexual assault. Names have been changed to protect the identities of survivors of sexual assault.
Christina ’13 was raped in the middle of the Main Quad at Stanford, in the early morning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day her sophomore year.
He was an acquaintance; a “friend” from her freshman dorm she didn’t really know. They were both drunk at a party, and he had volunteered to walk her home.
“I was very, very drunk so I was unable to do anything when it was happening,” Christina remembered. She admits she has blocked much of the incident out but remembers small details – the bikers who rode by them, giving congratulatory hoots moments before he pressed himself on top of her. The taste of alcohol on his breath. The “practiced” feel of it, as he unzipped his pants and hiked up her skirt in quick, effortless motions.
That night, when she arrived back to her house, Christina ran into a friend of hers in the bathroom.
“You’re up late. What’s up?” her friend asked.
“Something happened that I didn’t want to happen,” was all Christina could say. Her friend gave her an understanding look, assuming it was simply a drunken hookup.
“Honey, it happens all the time. Just drink some water and go to bed.”
The next morning she woke up at 9 a.m., in a state of shock.
“When I woke up in the morning and I remember, it was the most disgusting feeling, having his semen all over my legs and thinking, ‘I didn’t consent to any of this.’”
She called the Vaden Health Center’s 24/7 emergency hotline, which took several hours to respond because of the holiday. When she asked to file a police report, she was told her she had to contact the police directly. There was nothing else the Center could do for her.
“Vaden was fucking awful. They took hours to call me back, and it’s pretty time-sensitive…I just remember being curled up in a ball next to my bed, waiting for the cops to call me,” she said.
The police arrived around 11 p.m. that night to pick her up and drive her to the closest medical facility that administers rape kits, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, where a doctor found vaginal tears and semen.
“I thought I had a good case because I literally reported it the day of,” she said.
After being called in for interviews by the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) over several weeks, SUDPS called her in one last time to tell her the district attorney was dropping the case for lack of evidence.
“They had a female cop tell me, which I thought was nice, but she had clearly never undergone any sensitivity training for sexual assault… The way she told me was essentially, ‘We don’t think you were raped.’ It was so fucking hurtful. You’re trying to recollect and become whole again and you hear that from a woman… I just remember crying right there.”
According to women’s health advocates, this is often the reality of pursuing rape cases in the judicial system.
“It’s not that they don’t believe the survivor,” said Kelly Ramirez, chief development officer of the YWCA Silicon Valley. “It’s just that the legal requirements are not there.”
Ramirez said the situation is unfortunate for everyone involved: police officers, detectives and especially the victim.
This judicial paralysis becomes even worse when compared to the size of the problem: A staggering one-in-five women will be raped during their college careers, according to a 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Justice. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of these rapes are committed by an acquaintance and fewer than 5 percent are reported to police or campus authorities.
Ramirez noted reporting can be difficult, especially when the victim and accused have mutual friends.
“They say to you – I can’t believe he did that. Maybe you really asked for it. You could have just dealt with this quietly; you didn’t have to actually report it. Think about his future!’”
“The reason it got so difficult was because I notified everyone,” Christina said, describing how going through the process with Judicial Affairs and having to recount her story again and again was excruciating. “I felt I was suffering for doing the right thing.”
Christina’s case was one of the first to use the Alternative Review Process(ARP) for sexual assault – in fact, Stanford lowered the burden of proof from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “preponderance of evidence” during her case, meaning the panel would find the accused responsible if it was “more likely than not” a crime had occurred. Her attacker would later use this as grounds for an eventually unsuccessful appeal.
“When they changed to preponderance of evidence, I just remember weeping… I was so happy. It’s pretty much just a survivor and one witness [to convict],” she said. “As soon as they proved I was drunk via witness, they were able to stop the case right there.”
The review panel found her attacker guilty of rape, and also heard testimony from another female student who had been sexually harassed verbally by the same student. He was given a two-year suspension, after which he’d be allowed to return to Stanford.
“I appealed saying he should be expelled, but everyone knows Stanford doesn’t expel people, because that looks bad on them,” Christina said. “Why would anybody want to have this guy on campus, when there are so many vulnerable, vulnerable girls?”
According to Stanford’s Office of Judicial Affairs, nine of the 13 cases brought before a review panel since April 2009 have resulted in a finding of responsibility, and none of the students found responsible have been expelled.
After Christina’s rape, being at Stanford became difficult. She began to skip classes, and her grades began to suffer.
“Everywhere at Stanford were reminders that [it] happened. I’m a HumBio major so all my classes are in The Quad, even having to pass the place I was raped everyday, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it,” Christina said. “It was a hard year.”
Despite the inherent difficulty in reporting and retelling the story of her attack, Christina said getting her attacker off campus was crucial for her mental health.
While Christina and other survivors have some complaints about University resources, they agree overall that with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA) and the ARP, the resources are there for rape survivors who seek them. The bigger problem lies in prevention.
“It’s not talked about enough,” Christina said. “And it keeps happening.”
Sarah, ’15, was assaulted by a serial rapist two months before starting her freshman year at Stanford. She echoed Christina concerns over the lack of discussion about the issue.
“There’s a lot of resources out there, and I‘ve tried a lot of them; I’ve reached out a lot. It’s more I feel the community around me [isn’t] very open to hearing about it, or talking about it, or being comforting,” she said. “It’s a forbidden topic for the entirety of Stanford.”
From New Student Orientation (NSO) through her freshman year, she had the feeling that Stanford was the place to come and be happy – if you can’t be happy here, you simply don’t fit in.
“I don’t know how to change the mindset or overall feeling of a place,” Sarah said. “It bothers me to no end that it is like this, but I don’t know how to fix it.”
The ARP has reformed Stanford’s judicial system, making it easier for survivors to obtain findings of responsibility against their attackers. But according to Sarah and Christina, Stanford remains a difficult place to discuss these issues.
“It leads to feelings that people have in this community that nobody wants to talk about sexual assault and nobody wants to hear it exists,” Sarah said. “That’s not a good feeling for somebody who’s been sexually assaulted to feel.”
Julia Enthoven contributed to this report.