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Rape survivor demands change to Stanford’s sexual assault policies

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Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual assault.

“Five months ago, I was forcibly raped by another Stanford student.”

So began an email by Leah Francis ’14 that quickly circulated throughout the Stanford community Tuesday night. In the email, Francis disclosed the story of her sexual assault and the ensuing judicial process, and called for reforms to the University’s handling of sexual assault cases.

According to documents obtained by The Daily, the University’s Alternate Review Process (ARP) found Francis’ rapist responsible for sexual assault, sexual misconduct and violating the Fundamental Standard. His punishment was a five-quarter suspension, 40 hours of community service and completion of a sexual assault awareness program.

However, the suspension does not take effect until summer 2014 and includes summer quarters, so Francis’ assailant, a member of the Class of 2014, can graduate on time and return in a year for graduate school. According to Francis, he was originally going to be allowed to walk at Commencement until Francis raised a complaint to Stanford’s Title IX coordinator.

In her email, Francis characterized this punishment as a “gap year.”

“Should he change his mind and decide to go to grad school elsewhere, he can choose to walk away from Stanford with no significant undergraduate consequences for forcibly sexually assaulting me,” she wrote.

Criticisms of ARP
In May 2013, Stanford adopted a revised Alternate Review Process following two years of review in response to the Dear Colleague Letter sent by the Department of Education in April 2011.  The new standard lowered the standard of proof from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “a preponderance of the evidence” and made several changes to the process of reviewing sexual assault cases.

In an interview with The Daily, Francis was critical of the current process of adjudicating sexual assault cases.

“It really ruins your life. It’s really hard to maintain any semblance of acceptable grades [while going through the ARP],” Francis said, adding that she estimated that she had to write over 100 pages for the proceedings.  “[The process is] extremely detrimental to the ability of the survivor to keep on surviving.”

Francis reported the assault, which took place off campus early in the morning of Jan. 1, 2014, to the University on Jan. 7. According to documents obtained by The Daily, the assailant was notified that he was being formally charged on April 9. He was found guilty on April 25, and sanctions were announced on May 6.

In accordance with Title IX, schools must complete their investigations into sexual assault cases in a “reasonably prompt” time frame. According to the Department of Education, a typical investigation takes approximately 60 days, although compliance is determined on a case-by-case basis.

On June 2, Francis filed an appeal against the sanctions and requested that her assailant be expelled. The University has not yet ruled on the appeal.

Before filing her appeal, Francis requested further justification for the panel’s original sanctions. In additional information released on May 13, the panel explained its initial decision by stating, “[Francis’ assailant] demonstrated a commitment and ability to abide by University policy moving forward. The panel felt that his presence on campus will not constitute a threat to the Stanford community, and that expulsion is therefore unwarranted.”

According to Francis, the panelists were given a document containing Stanford’s precedent of sanctions for sexual assault cases to assist them in their decision-making. This document, which The Daily has obtained, indicates that the University has suspended nine students (for between one and eight quarters) and expelled one for sexual assault since 2005. Until Francis’ case, no student had been sanctioned for sexual assault since the 2010-11 school year.

Changes Demanded
Francis will be leading a “Rally for Reforming Sexual Violence Resources and Policy at Stanford” today in White Plaza. Students have been putting flyers around campus and are also planning to wear red tape on their caps at Commencement as a sign of protest. An online petition in favor of reform had over 800 signatures as of Wednesday night.

The protesters are demanding changes including mandatory expulsion for individuals found guilty of sexual assault, expanded resources for preventing sexual assault and better support for survivors of sexual assault.

According to Francis, her assailant can currently attend classes at Stanford but has to be escorted by a plainclothes officer at all times.

“Rather than providing a cushion around a person who has been convicted of a violent sex crime [to keep them away from the victim]…[Stanford] should be severing ties with that person,” Francis said.

Rebecca Felix ’14, another student involved in the campaign for Stanford to change its policies, said that the office of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse (SARA) needs to expand its resources. Felix said that some survivors of sexual assault had contacted her and told her that when they visited the SARA office during drop-in hours, no one was there. Francis said that she had visited the office herself and found no one there.

Another reform that Francis would like is to assign each survivor of sexual assault a volunteer professor who can act as a resource and advisor. Francis said that when a tenured professor became involved in her case, the University became much more responsive to her needs. According to Francis, her assailant had continued to live near her residence for two weeks after the sanctions were returned against him, but was moved out of his housing the day she contacted a tenured professor.

Francis also called for secrecy rules to be relaxed during ARP proceedings.

“I felt like the University was trying to prevent me from getting the help that I needed,” Francis said.

University Response
In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Lisa Lapin wrote that the University cannot comment on specific cases, but “we regret any circumstance in which a student believes a process here at Stanford has not met their expectations.”

“We take very seriously the pain and trauma that are generated by sexual assault,” Lapin wrote. “We have strengthened our programs in the area of sexual assault response and prevention over the last several years, seeking to provide support to individuals in crisis, encourage reporting, ensure fair and thorough disciplinary processes, and educate the community to prevent future incidents. But we are always looking to improve what we do, and we genuinely welcome input from students on how we can do better.”

In an interview, Lapin added that it would be premature to speculate about any additional reforms at this point.

The effort to change Stanford’s policy towards sexual assault comes at a time when sexual assault policies are being examined at colleges and universities across the country. On May 1, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a list of 55 colleges under investigation for possible Title IX violations related to the handling of sexual assault cases. Stanford was not on this list.

The University recently hired a new Title IX Coordinator, Catherine Criswell. Criswell also refused to comment on a pending case, but wrote in an email to The Daily that she has “already begun active conversations with students, faculty, and staff around these issues.”

On Wednesday, the University provost posted a new website that listed resources for sexual assault survivors. The website explains that survivors have several options and recommends that survivors report their experience to the police and the University.

In the Facebook event for the rally, one student wrote that the website merely reiterates Stanford’s current policy. The post invited others to attend the protest and “let our university know that we are NOT looking for a new website, we are looking to change policies and the culture around sexual assault and abuse at [Stanford.]”

“We wanted to focus on changing campus culture, university policy and getting more resources for survivors of sexual assault, and we believe that having a rally in support of those objectives is the most productive thing we can do,” Francis said. “What we really care about is helping other survivors.”

Click here for photos and Tweets from Thursday’s rally.

Catherine Zaw contributed reporting.

Contact Caleb Smith at caleb17 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

Caleb Smith '17 is a Desk Editor from Oakland, California and is majoring in public policy. Outside the Daily, Caleb is Director of news at KZSU Stanford, the campus radio station. Have a tip or suggestion? Please contact him at caleb17 ‘at’ stanford.edu.