Stanford students call for accountability after second alleged rape reported in two months
Stanford University officials must do more to prevent sexual violence, support victims and hold perpetrators accountable, sexual violence prevention advocates on campus said this week, in the wake of the second alleged rape reported in as many months at the school.
The university’s Undergraduate Senate unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution on Thursday night calling on administrators to expand safety measures across the university; allocate more resources to support students in the aftermath of sexual violence; commission an external audit on how its Title IX office handles investigations into reported sexual assaults; and fire two faculty members, one of whom was arrested and charged with alleged domestic violence earlier this month and another who has allegedly faced at least three Title IX complaints in the past decade, the document states.
“Stanford has a long history of sexual violence and lack of accountability, and students are concerned, students are angry,” said Amira Dehmani, co-chair of the Undergraduate Senate and a third-year student of political science.
Student activists have also planned a protest for Friday afternoon, sponsored by the group Sexual Violence Free Stanford. An Instagram post advertising the event had more than 700 likes as of Friday morning.
The group also sponsored the resolution passed Thursday, along with two executive members of the Associated Students of Stanford University, which represents the student body.
The events follow last Friday’s report of a rape in the basement of a campus building, marking the second alleged rape reported in as many months at the elite Northern California university. The previous alleged assault, in August, took place in a campus bathroom.
University officials are investigating both incidents, they have said. Both the perpetrator’s and the victim’s connections to the university are unclear in each case.
Back in 2016, the school was rocked by the trial and subsequent lenient sentence in the case of swim team member Brock Turner, who was convicted of three felonies after he sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.
Prosecutors pushed for a six-year prison sentence in that case, but the judge, Aaron Persky, followed the Santa Clara County Probation Department’s recommendation of just six months in jail. Persky was later recalled in the wake of public outrage over the sentence.
Student activists point to a 2019 survey that shows that more than 70% of undergraduate female students doubt the university would conduct a fair investigation of sexual assault or misconduct claims and that nearly 40% of female students will experience nonconsensual sexual contact by the end of their undergraduate career. Transgender and nonbinary students also face particularly high rates of sexual assault on the campus, that survey shows.
Stanford spokesperson Dee Mostofi said officials are aware of the Undergraduate Senate’s resolution and requests but did not respond to a question about whether the university would consider any of the students’ demands.
“Sexual violence is a very challenging issue that we and all universities have been working aggressively to address,” Mostofi said. “Our programs continue to evolve to meet the demands of our community through ongoing enhancements to prevent and respond to the problem.”
Advocates decry a ‘lack of accountability’
Student activists and at least one faculty member say that Stanford’s responses to the two alleged assaults recently reported highlight the need for the university to overhaul its approach to sexual violence on campus, pointing to the university’s advice that members intervene to prevent sexual assaults themselves when possible.
“Regardless of how close to the incident they are, Upstanders have the power stop assaults and to get help for people who have been victimized,” the university said in its report of last Friday’s assault.
The report also included a link to resources to support survivors of sexual assault.
Sofia Scarlat, a co-leader of Sexual Violence Free Stanford and a third-year student of sociology and history, said it’s “cruel to put that much pressure on students.”
Scarlat and others also pointed to an update the university issued the day after last Friday’s alleged rape, urging students to report information about assaults. The alleged victim elected not to report it to law enforcement, the university said, adding that she shared it with a “mandated employer” — certain employees or people affiliated with the university legally obligated to report certain crimes — who then notified campus police.
Activists say the university hasn’t proven it takes students’ experiences of sexual violence seriously.
“I think that … an institution really cannot ask people to [report assaults] when the institution has not created the proper environment for people to come forward,” Scarlat said.
The university’s most recent Title IX reports show it has had an average of 195 complaints per year since 2016. Those complaints include accusations of sexual harassment and assault, stalking, relationship violence and gender discrimination.
Campus advocates say another much smaller number is also telling: the university has only ever expelled two students for sexual assault.
“Right now, the lack of accountability for sexual violence at Stanford is staggering and it is deterring victims from reporting,” said Michele Dauber, a law professor at Stanford who has advocated for tougher accountability for perpetrators of sexual assault at the university.
The resolution passed Thursday characterizes the school’s Title IX process as “deeply flawed, as Title IX procedures are shrouded in secrecy and fail to provide adequate investigations in the pursuit of justice.”
Mostofi said the Title IX office staff “care deeply about these issues, the individuals affected by sexual harassment, and that the policies on sexual harassment at Stanford continue to support a safe and respectful environment for everyone.”
Campuses ‘set up’ for sexual assault
The resolution also calls for the firings of two professors who remain employed at the university despite recent accusations of domestic violence and sexual harassment.
Mostofi, the Stanford spokesperson, did not respond to a question about the request to fire the faculty members.
Jennifer Hirsch, a public health professor at Columbia University and co-author of “Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus,” said that sexual violence “is not a campus problem — it’s a social problem.”
Research shows that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men in the U.S. have been the victims of attempted or completed rapes in their lifetime, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
But at universities, Hirsch added, the combination of “lack of clarity about what students want to get out of a sexual experience, in some cases [with] very heavy substance use, and really substantial power inequalities … is a set-up” for campus cultures where sexual assault can proliferate, she said.
Thirteen percent of all students experience sexual assault, according to RAINN, which characterizes sexual assault on campuses as “pervasive.”
Mostofi said Stanford University has expanded its educational offerings focused on sexual violence prevention in recent years, which include mandatory programs for first-year students and transfers. But advocates say the programs have been unsuccessful, pointing to a voluntary men’s group that only had seven attendees when it met in the winter of 2020 and 13 the year before.