Currently, a Stanford student who has been sexually assaulted must travel to San Jose if they choose to undergo the forensic examination known as a “rape kit.” The University is in negotiations with Santa Clara County to make the exam significantly more accessible.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be at Stanford, but we want something in the north County,” said James Jacobs, executive director of Vaden Health Center, at a recent panel discussion on sexual assault. “Well, Stanford’s been willing to host this, and so for 23 months now we’ve been inching towards a north County presence for a SART program.”
A SART, or Sexual Assault Response Team, is the program that allows sexual assault victims to collect DNA and other evidence following an assault. Administered by a specially trained and certified SANE, or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, the forensic examination can be used in prosecuting a rapist as well as connecting them to serial rapes.
“Stanford has a lot of resources for sexual assault coping,” noted Sela Berenblum ’20, founder and leader of the Stanford branch of reproductive health advocacy group Bedsider. “But one thing that they don’t have is a specially-trained SART nurse.”
Instead, students must go to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose. Transportation is offered by both Stanford’s Confidential Support Team and campus police, although Berenblum argues that issues of accessibility remain.
“If there’s no resources on campus for students to get evidence collected,” she explained, “they have to find transportation to go off campus, which can be a barrier to people even getting the evidence collected at all, because maybe they don’t want to go through the hassle of figuring out how to get off campus” following such a traumatic event.
A paper by the Civic Research Institute also points to embarrassment and fear of “a strange environment” as factors that might disincentivize victims from traveling off-campus for evidence collection, even if transportation is provided.
Because neither Vaden Health Center nor Stanford Medicine offer SART examinations, students must make a trip that can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour, one way.
“I think having a nurse or someone who’s medically trained on campus be able to administer these evidence kits would really reduce the barriers [to] students being able to get evidence collected immediately,” Berenblum said. “Time is of the essence with something like this.”
Although different sources suggest different timetables for how quickly a SART must be administered, Stanford itself suggests it happen “within 72 hours” of the initial assault. During that time, victims “are advised not to shower, wash, wipe, change clothes or brush their teeth.”
Yet “victims want to shower after [an assault] happens,” Berenblum explained. “They want to pee.”
The University’s plans for a closer examination center — potentially even an on-campus one — aim to solve this issue.
“Everybody’s on board; there is nobody who is saying no to this,” Jacobs explained. “The problem is, the details are innumerable.”
Currently, Santa Clara County is training a new cohort of SANE nurses for work in the north County. In the meantime, he added, there are plans for a temporary option.
“I can’t tell you a time,” Jacobs said. “I can’t tell you whether it’s going to be February 1st or June 1st or October 1st. But we have every expectation that a north County presence for doing SART exams will go live in a trial period sooner rather than later, and that that will be replaced by a brick-and-mortar building, or at least a dedicated room in the new Stanford Hospital when it opens … 12 to 18 months from now.”
Years ago, Stanford Hospital did offer SART examinations, Jacobs explained. However, he said, due to infrequent use, the nurses were relatively inexperienced, reportedly damaging the legal viability of the exam results in prosecutions. At the order of the Santa Clara District Attorney, the County’s SART programs were eventually centralized at a single location: Valley Medical Center.
Now, officials are considering reversing that mandate.
“The County of Santa Clara and Stanford University are exploring ways to provide an additional service location for the SART program in the northern part of the County,” confirmed Joy Alexiou, public information officer for the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System.
“Both parties are hopeful that a pilot project will take place and we anticipate that an announcement will be made with Stanford University in the near future,” Alexiou said. “A larger community based program will be considered as well.”
Improved SART accessibility has been a recurring demand by student leaders and activists. Current ASSU executives Justice Tention ’18 and Vicki Niu ’18 were elected last spring on a platform that called for on-campus SART exams; some of their opponents did as well.
“For survivors of sexual assault, the reporting process is often one of repeated questioning and re-introduced trauma,” Niu commented. “Having medical evidence can aid in reducing questioning and strengthening a survivor’s case. Increased access to SART exam[s] is something that student advocates have called for at Stanford for many years, and a call that Justice and I firmly stand behind.”
But even when SART examinations are fully accessible to victims, it’s not guaranteed that they will be used. A recent investigation by San Jose Inside revealed that “hundreds” of exams in Santa Clara County have gone untested, part of a nationwide backlog problem.
In 2016, the article noted, “Stanford University police submitted four rape kits to the crime lab and withheld two,” citing the victims’ declining to cooperate.
That same year, 33 incidents of rape were reported to campus police.
The number for the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is 408-885-5000. The number for the Center’s SART unit is 408-885-6466. The centers are available 24 hours a day.
Free transportation to the Center can be secured through campus police, at 650-329-2413, and Stanford’s Confidential Support Team, at 650-736-6933 (business hours) or 650-725-9955 (all hours). Only the Confidential Support Team guarantees confidentiality.
The YWCA of Silicon Valley offers a Rape Crisis Hotline, which can be contacted at 650-493-7273 or 408-287-3000. Both lines are available 24 hours a day.
Contact Brian Contreras at brianc42 ‘at’ stanford.edu.