Questions and answers on current issues in sexual assault cases
Stanford continues to work diligently to ensure a safe campus environment in which sexual assault and relationship violence have no place, and to treat all victims of such violence with compassion and dignity. Preventing sexual violence, supporting students in crisis and fairly adjudicating sexual assault cases continue to be critical imperatives for the university.
Recent media reports have included allegations that fundamentally misrepresent what has occurred in some recent cases. This document provides a brief overview of the facts in response to some of the misleading information that has been circulated.
What is Stanford’s response to a recent lawsuit alleging lapses in the university’s response to an individual accused of assaulting multiple women beginning in 2011?
Stanford has great sympathy for the plaintiff in the case, and for any student who has experienced sexual violence. At the same time, the university will be vigorously defending the lawsuit, as Stanford acted in the case with appropriate diligence and compassion within the requirements of privacy laws and fair processes.
Stanford’s legal filing in response to the lawsuit can be read in full here.
Is it true that Stanford “has offered settlements to at least two women in attempts to close ongoing federal investigations of how the elite school handles sexual assault cases,” as one media account characterized it?
No, this is incorrect. Stanford does not have and has never had the intention of curtailing any federal Title IX investigation, nor could it do so even if it desired to.
The settlement discussions that have been reported were initiated by lawyers threatening to sue Stanford and demanding a financial payout for their clients in order to avoid a lawsuit. Generally, when Stanford considers a financial settlement in response to a demand from a lawyer threatening a lawsuit, the university requires that the party receiving the money withdraw any other personal claims under which they could receive more money for the same matter – in this case, through the Office for Civil Rights investigation process. In essence, this prevents two separate financial settlement opportunities. But such a step would not curtail any investigation.
When an individual complaint is filed under Title IX, it is the practice of the Office for Civil Rights to conduct an exhaustive review of all issues related to the institution’s handling of issues related to sexual assault. It is incorrect that if a student withdraws a complaint, OCR will not continue reviewing the issues raised by that complaint. Stanford has been fully cooperating with OCR in its investigation of sexual assault at Stanford and will continue doing so.
What about the allegation that Stanford is seeking to “buy off” individuals who have filed Title IX complaints?
As discussed above, this is incorrect.
The settlement discussions that have been reported were initiated by outside lawyers representing their clients. Stanford is not seeking and has never sought in any way to end the Title IX investigations and could not do so even if it reached a settlement regarding potential litigation with an individual party.
The university is unable to address the settlement discussions in detail because it is bound to the confidentiality provisions of that process, which others have violated. The university has asked opposing attorneys to allow it to discuss what took place in settlement discussions, but they have not responded to that request. The university has nothing to hide about its handling of these cases and has no desire to keep any sexual assault survivor from talking about any criticisms they may have of Stanford or its processes.
What about the allegation that Stanford is resistant to reforms in its sexual assault policies and practices?
This too is incorrect.
Stanford has undertaken a wide range of efforts to strengthen the prevention and response to sexual violence at the university, and these efforts are continuing, including a major overhaul of policies and practices after a comprehensive review by the Provost’s Task Force on Sexual Assault in 2014-2015. The university looks forward to continuing to work with the campus community and with the Office for Civil Rights to address the shared goal of ensuring a safe campus environment free of sexual assault and relationship violence.
Has Stanford told faculty members not to talk about sexual assault at Stanford?
No. The university would never tell a faculty member not to talk about sexual assault at Stanford. Stanford may ask a faculty member to use good judgment, and not discuss confidential information they may have obtained about a sexual assault survivor’s actual case in public or with other students without the survivor’s permission.
In many ways, Stanford is similar to a small community, so even if a student’s name is not used, it is very possible that someone could recognize the student from the description of the assault. The university wants sexual assault survivors to have the assurance that they have the agency to share their story – or not – at their own discretion. Stanford also does not want to do anything that will make survivors less likely to report an assault to the university.