Fighting for Women's Equality

In the News: How Many Victims Does It Take?

January 22, 2016 | by
Sexual assault at Stanford, through the eyes of four women survivors.

Sexual assault at Stanford, through the eyes of four women survivors. PHOTO: Veronica Weber, Palo Alto Weekly

Sara and Celena (not their real names) are two Equal Rights Advocates clients; they are students at Stanford University. They share something else: they were also sexually assaulted, along with at least two other women, by the same male student. Their stories paint the picture of an institution that coddled and enabled a serial predator, even as multiple women bravely came forward to report him and demand that Stanford protecting their ability to get safely go to school.

Their stories, as told to Huffington Post and Palo Alto Weekly, were published online today. Read excerpts below; follow the links to read the rest.

From Huffington Post

How A Stanford Student Accused Of Assaulting Multiple Women Graduated

Sara, a recent graduate of Stanford University, is a survivor. During her freshman year at the school, she says, a male student she was dating turned violent after she refused to have sex with him. He choked her and threatened to kill her, whispering in her ear that no one would care if she died, she says.

Sara reported the attack to Stanford administrators, who then spoke with Robert, the alleged assailant. University administrators told Sara that he didn’t contest her story. 

The school imposed a no-contact order on Robert, meaning he had to keep his distance from Sara or face punishment. Sara says she was told to focus on her recovery. She agreed to the plan, and says she asked the school to notify her if other victims of his ever came forward. It is not clear if anyone at the university agreed to her request, though Sara says she was under the impression the school would let her know about any future allegations agains Robert. 

Two years later, in November 2014, Sara was horrified to figure out that two other female students, including a woman she taught as a graduate student, had told the university they had been assaulted by the same man. Despite the allegations, he had been allowed to remain on the Palo Alto, California, campus, and to graduate.

“To find out that all this time, the university just sit by and let it happen, it was deeply, deeply disturbing and horrifying,” Sara told The Huffington Post.

Colleges and universities have faced mounting claims from women in recent years that they mishandled sexual assault cases, in violation of the gender equity law Title IX. The White House launched a task force dedicated to the issue. Despite this national attention — and the growing understanding that a relatively small number of people are responsible for a majority of sex crimes — Stanford, one of the most renowned universities in the world, apparently did not immediately connect the dots when separate women came forward, two years apart, to allege that they had been assaulted by the same male student. Even after a third woman came forward with a similar claim against the student, he was allowed to graduate.

After Robert graduated, a fourth woman, Annie, told the other women that she had been assaulted by him as well. She has never reported the alleged attack to the university.

It’s not uncommon for victims of sexual assault to wait weeks or months to approach authorities. Many victims, researchers say, never report their assault at all. 

Sexual violence is depressingly common among collegiate women. Studies show that around 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted over the course of their college experience. Research released last year that examined male college students who carry out these attacks suggests that about 20 percent of perpetrators are repeat offenders. A study of military cadets and men in Boston found that serial offenders may actually be responsible for a majority of sexual assaults. Read more.

From Palo Alto Weekly:

Stanford University processes fail victims of sexual assault, students say

It was one of those impossibly warm, sunny fall days at Stanford University last October when four female students met, some for the first time, in a campus courtyard. They had found each other by chance, brought together by a shared experience: Each said they had been physically or sexually assaulted by the same male student over the course of his four years at Stanford, and each felt failed by the institution obligated to address such acts of violence perpetrated on and by its students.

It was Stanford’s failure to adequately investigate each subsequent report of sexual and/or physical violence at the hands of the young man, “Robert Smith,” that “allowed him to continue to act with impunity,” said “Sara Ortiz,” the first of the women to report allegations to Stanford, in 2012.

“Celena Dako” came next, reporting in April 2014 that Smith had allegedly tried to sexually assault her on campus the month before; then “Ashley Patel,” who in June 2014 alleged that he had physically assaulted her off campus the summer prior. A fourth woman, “Annie Richardson,” said Smith sexually assaulted her in 2010, their freshman year, but she never told anyone who worked for the university. Read more

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