News

In the spotlight again, Stanford rebuts New York Times story on sexual assault

Article details alleged rape by current football player

A New York Times story describing Stanford University's "struggles and pitfalls" in adjudicating sexual-assault cases -- explored through the case of a former female student who said she was raped by a current member of the football team -- was quickly condemned by the university as an inaccurate assessment of its efforts to "aggressively to address the scourge of sexual assault."

The Dec. 29 article, titled "A Majority Agreed She Was Raped by a Stanford Football Player. That Wasn't Enough," details the 2015 case, in which the football player claimed he and the woman had had consensual sex. The Times identified neither the woman nor the player, who did not respond to requests for interviews, according to the article. The story drew from interviews with the woman, campus administrators and professors, legal experts and more than 100 pages of documents from Stanford's internal proceedings on the case.

The Palo Alto Weekly attempted to contact the woman in the case, but she did not return requests for comment.

The article examines Stanford's procedures for adjudicating sexual violence, including what the reporters called an "uncommonly high bar" requiring at least four of five members on a panel to find the accused to be responsible. In this case, according to the Times, only three out of five members of two separate panels -- one after the woman appealed her case -- concluded the football player committed sexual assault, so he was not deemed responsible and was not punished. (The New York Times said he played in the Sun Bowl, which Stanford won the day after the story was published.)

Stanford has since launched a new, pilot adjudication process in which a panel of three extensively trained panelists must unanimously agree to find a student responsible.

Stanford is among the many college and universities across the country that "have struggled to balance the desire and legal obligation to cultivate a safe campus, where victims feel comfortable coming forward, with maintaining due process for the accused," New York Times reporters Joe Drape and Marc Tracy wrote.

"At Stanford, however, that effort has set off a particularly vigorous debate, as a school that is an innovator across fields and has a sterling image to protect faces a community in which many believe it has fallen short of leading on one of the thorniest issues of the day," they wrote.

Stanford quickly defended its handling of this and other cases, calling the article one-sided, inaccurate and "incomplete." The same day the story was published, Stanford released a statement and posted a "questions and responses" page rebutting certain elements of the article.

The university "holds students accountable" and has "worked to confront sexual assault squarely and aggressively," Stanford said in its statement.

"We also confront in our work the reality that while some cases are clear-cut, in difficult cases there unfortunately will be individuals deeply unhappy with some outcomes," the university said. "Our experience is that students on both sides of these cases sometimes express unhappiness."

In an email to the Weekly, New York Times Sports Editor Jason Stallman wrote that the story is "100 percent accurate and stands on solid ground."

"Nothing that Stanford officials have provided changes the essential premise: A football player twice was found by a majority to be responsible for a sexual assault and paid no consequence," Stallman wrote.

"Nor did Stanford provide any information that would alter the larger takeaway of this story, the troubling difficulty that universities encounter in adjudicating these cases. The woman who accused the football player of rape went through a process that, by dint of her winning an appeal and second hearing, was marred by procedural errors."

Stallman noted that every independent expert the Times reporters interviewed for the story was critical of Stanford's current adjudication system.

In 2016, the university said it oversaw 16 cases that were charged under federal civil-rights law Title IX, including for sexual assault, stalking and sexual harassment, and found 13 people responsible. One of those students was expelled through a new process adopted in 2016 — a non-hearing resolution, or a proposed set of remedies that both parties, accused and accuser, must agree to in order to proceed. This addition has been criticized by some as de-facto plea bargaining, a criticism Stanford rejected in its statement.

Since implementing the three-person panel in February 2016, there has been no case where a split vote has prevented a "finding of liability," Stanford said. As is standard and recommended by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, Stanford relies on a "preponderance of evidence" standard, or that it is more likely than not that an incident happened. (This is the same standard of proof used in civil cases but lower than what is required in criminal trials.)

Despite the university's recent adoption of expulsion as the expected punishment for a student found responsible of sexual assault, Provost John Etchemendy told The New York Times that the university does not take that outcome lightly.

"Imagine a senior, who has paid four years of Stanford tuition," Etchemendy told the Times. "Being expelled is really a life-changing punishment. I think we as an institution have a duty to take that very seriously."

Although ​the New York Times reported that ​Stanford ​​originally told the Times ​there had been no expulsions for sexual assault since the new Title IX process was rolled out (later correcting it to one), after the story was published the university said the total was actually four, since 2014. ​

In a statement to the Weekly, Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said the university has decided to categorize as expulsions cases where a student accused of sexual violence who voluntary withdraw​s from school​, as Brock Turner quickly did after being arrested for sexual assault in 2015, or leave the university through the non-hearing resolution process​, as Stanford said one student did last year.

Stanford also noted that "student-athletes receive no special treatment" in the university's investigation and discipline of sexual violence and that it would have been inappropriate to inform the football coach, David Shaw, of the proceedings. Shaw told the Times that he knew a "proceeding was happening" involving the player but did not know the charge and saw no reason to suspend him without further information.

"Unless there is reason — for safety — we do not inform the individuals' teachers, their conductor in the choir if they're in the choir, the football coach if they're on the football team, or any other head of an activity that they participate in," Etchemendy told The New York Times.

According to Stanford, the football team — which represents about 3 percent of all undergraduate men — has collectively since 2010 been accused in approximately 3 percent of all Title IX allegations.

"That is, Stanford football players are not overly represented in Title IX complaints based on their percent of the overall male undergraduate population," Stanford said.

Stanford has been in the spotlight recently for several sexual-assault cases — most visibly that of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, but also a lawsuit alleging the university acted with "deliberate indifference" to reports of sexual assault and a former student who said Stanford offered her $60,000 to cover therapy expenses on the condition she withdraw a federal complaint she filed against the university.

Stanford has vigorously denied both allegations.

The university noted it continues to seek feedback on its new Title IX process, which is being monitored by an advisory committee made up of faculty and students.

The Palo Alto Weekly has created a Storify archive with coverage of sexual-assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.

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Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Comments

9 people like this
Posted by Stanford alum
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2017 at 9:15 am

Denies and rebuts are not the same thing. This really does not seem like the right headline to me.


33 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 5, 2017 at 9:40 am

The university has a huge conflict of interest in trying to protect its reputation at the same time it investigates these crimes. If crime victims really want justice, they should report their crimes to the real police, not just to the university.


3 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 5, 2017 at 10:43 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@resident - you should read the Stanford response, it addresses your concern directly.

"Why does Stanford investigate allegations of sexual assault? Shouldn’t this be left to the police?

We encourage all victims of sexual assault to report to the police, although some of them choose not to, for a variety of reasons. We are not – nor do we claim to be – a substitute for a criminal process."

Also note, even though the title of the NY Times article says "majority agreed" that is irrelevant, because the standard of guild was 4 out of 5. And in something this serious, it probably should have been 5 out of 5.

"The Stanford process applicable at the time of the case discussed in the Times story required an affirmative vote by at least four out of five panelists to hold a student responsible for a sexual assault. That requirement was quite similar to the requirement for civil liability in California’s court system where a significant supermajority of jurors (at least nine out of 12) must agree that a plaintiff has proven his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence before a defendant can be found liable."


15 people like this
Posted by Kaz
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 5, 2017 at 3:18 pm

"Imagine a senior, who has paid four years of Stanford tuition," Etchemendy told the Times. "Being expelled is really a life-changing punishment. I think we as an institution have a duty to take that very seriously."

OH MY GAWD.

Thank god Etchemendy is on his way out. His words imply that it isn't good business to investigate the paying customers. Er, I mean, the paying MALE customers. By implication, men at Stanford get a nod and a wink about sexual crimes. "Heeey buddy, you're paying a lot for our prestigious degree. We'll protect that investment for you." -- at a cost to female students, who pay the same tuition but are clearly being cheated: they don't get value-added protection from being held responsible for their behavior, and they don't get a discount for the very real risk of being raped. The psychological burden of that fear, and the extended trauma to those who are raped, makes college that much harder for women than men.

STANFORD IS RIPPING OFF ITS WOMEN STUDENTS by giving more value to males at the direct expense of females. Class action lawsuit, gals? Or perhaps individual suits for the tuition paid by victims of sexual assault while at Stanford.

Let's try turning that around:

"Imagine a senior, who has paid four years of Stanford tuition. Being RAPED is really a life-changing TRAUMA. I think we as an institution have a duty to take that very seriously."

Which attitude befits the president of Stanford best?


3 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2017 at 4:17 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Stanford alum
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2017 at 6:12 pm

[Post removed.]



10 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 5, 2017 at 6:46 pm

Based on anecdotal evidence it seems like most schools try to protect their image through drawn out hearings, alternative punishment (no jail), etc.

If either of my daughters were still in college I'd tell them if anything happens, the school is not your friend. Call the police and work with them through thick and thin to help them get a conviction.


4 people like this
Posted by someone
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2017 at 8:08 pm

Why does paloaltoonline deletes any Pro-Stanford comments while keeping all the inflammatory comments against Stanford? Is this what journalism teach you?


15 people like this
Posted by Just call the police
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 5, 2017 at 8:13 pm

Just call the police is a registered user.

Simple solution, schools stay out of criminal investigations. If a crime is committed it is reported to the police. Period.


6 people like this
Posted by Stewart
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 5, 2017 at 9:31 pm

Could it be that Stanford is applying significantly more effort, time, and money to kill the messenger of bad, but likely very real news, than it ever did investigating the numerous sexual assaults reported on its campus? It's reputation is it's source of revenue, and it's pretty clear where their priorities appear to be.

Why any victim of sexual assault on Stanford, or most any other college campus, trusts the University to do the right thing is sadly a mystery to me.


7 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 5, 2017 at 9:55 pm

'Stanford quickly defended its handling of this and other cases, calling the article one-sided, inaccurate and "incomplete." '

Attacking the accuser does not exonerate the accused. Doesn't anybody over on The Farm study logic anymore?


11 people like this
Posted by I'll trust the NYT thanks
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 6, 2017 at 8:12 am

[Portion removed.]

"Expel" is a verb. It means "to force out : eject; to force to leave (as a place or organization) by official action : take away rights or privileges of membership <expelled from college>

You cannot "expel" yourself. [Portion removed.] One must "be expelled," one cannot forcibly remove one's self. One can "withdraw" or "leave." That is what has happened. [Portion removed.]

"Although ​the New York Times reported that ​Stanford ​​originally told the Times ​there had been no expulsions for sexual assault since the new Title IX process was rolled out (later correcting it to one), after the story was published the university said the total was actually four, since 2014. ​

In a statement to the Weekly, Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said the university has decided to categorize as expulsions cases where a student accused of sexual violence who voluntary withdraw​s from school​, as Brock Turner quickly did after being arrested for sexual assault in 2015, or leave the university through the non-hearing resolution process​, as Stanford said one student did last year."


5 people like this
Posted by Jerry
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 6, 2017 at 11:10 am

Kaz, Remember the story in Rolling Stone, which turned out to be a hoax. Or the story of the Lacross team, which turned out to be a hoax. Universities must consider both sides of the story and have PROOF that the incidents occurred.
The best thing to do, as many comments have said, is to immediately contact the police and let them handle it. They will contact the University, as appropriate, to the investigation.


1 person likes this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 8, 2017 at 4:14 pm

The issue is "due process" and whether such is even achievable now. Any questions?


3 people like this
Posted by Making Stanford Great Again
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 10, 2017 at 12:14 am

Here I fixed it for you:

"Imagine a senior, who has paid four years of Stanford tuition WHO IS RAPED BY ANOTHER STUDENT," Etchemendy told the Times. "Being RAPED is really a life-changing EXPERIENCE. I think we as an institution have a duty to take that very seriously AND MAKE SURE THAT THE VICTIM CAN CONTINUE HER EDUCATION WITHOUT FEAR OF SEEING HER ATTACKER IN HER DORM OR DINING HALL, AT MINIMUM.

Sadly that is not what he said.

The plain fact is that Stanford admin quoted in the Times did not express one single syllable of concern for this poor victim who had to actually LEAVE STANFORD because SU refused to grant her a no-contact directive. That's it. That's the bottom line. No one can say that it's a "life changing consequence" to get a no-contact directive because it is not.

And as for the idea that Stanford is "evaluating" this program how much evaluation do you need? Your results are in. The wait is over. This victim is so pissed that she has left Stanford and is now haunting you on the front page of the New York Times. She hates you. Probably her friends hate you. Her family probably hates you. They probably tell everyone they meet how badly you treated her and what horrible human beings you are. I think even a Stanford genius could tell you that flunks the basics of good policy. If that's your policy, start over, you did it wrong.


2 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2017 at 2:25 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

Here is a better summary for those who didn't read the article, "the player had not been found responsible." Since the player was found not responsible, what justification would there be for punishing him?


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