Stanford University concluded that one of its students sexually
assaulted a classmate, campus officials imposed what they called a very
serious sanction: a suspension of two academic quarters.
victim said it felt like a second assault.
my rapist with a gracious invitation back to Stanford pending a brief
period of ‘reflection’ disrespects myself and the moral stature of
Stanford as an institution,” Sinéad Talley wrote on Dec. 20, 2016, in
her unsuccessful appeal. She wanted Stanford to expel the man she said
had been her friend until he raped her while she was in a drunken
reported the assault in 2016 to campus police, as required by state law.
But Talley chose not to pursue the case through the criminal justice
system. Instead, like many college students who report sexual assault,
she turned to her university’s internal justice system.
Talley is speaking out to accuse the world-renowned university of
protecting students who commit sexual assault by downplaying the
severity of their behavior and rarely expelling them.
data appear to back her up: Stanford received reports of 84
campus rapes from 2014 to 2016, according to
information the university provided to the U.S. Department of Education,
which requires campuses to collect crime statistics under the Clery Act.
Stanford told the federal agency it received 33 of the rape reports in
the university expelled no students for sexual assault in those years.
Instead, it arranged for three students to leave voluntarily, including former
Stanford swimmer Brock Turner in 2015-16, said
spokesman E.J. Miranda. He said two students have been expelled for
sexual assault, in 2001-02 and 2006-07.
said the university could not investigate all 84 reports of rape because
some complainants never identified an assailant. Some who were
identified couldn’t be expelled because they weren’t students, he said.
questions remain even after a closer look.
a 2016-17 report by Stanford on sexual misconduct on campus, the
university said it conducted
12 investigations into reports of “nonconsensual
intercourse,” but lacked enough information to investigate another 12.
The hearing panel found violations in four cases — against three
students and a visiting researcher. Names are not included in the
report, but one of those cases was Talley’s.
Leah Millis / The Chronicle 2016
woman leaves the main quad at Stanford University in June 2016.
Stanford received reports of 84 campus rapes from 2014 to 2016,
according to information the university provided to the U.S.
Department of Education, but no one was expelled.
Talley’s case, the panel deciding punishment did not expel the student
because it found he didn’t know she was incapacitated and didn’t cause
her to become incapacitated.
in another case in the 2016-17 report, the hearing panel decided against
expelling a student even though his offense met Stanford’s threshold for
expulsion, according to a footnote in the report. That is, the student
committed sexual assault either by force, by incapacitating his victim,
or by knowing that his victim was incapacitated and having sex with her
panel “determined that a three-quarter suspension was the appropriate
sanction,” the footnote said, without explanation.
has had tremendous reluctance to hold students accountable even when
they are found responsible for the most serious violations. They just
won’t expel them. Instead, they give these laughably lenient penalties,”
said Michele Dauber, the Stanford law professor who led a successful
recall campaignlast spring against the judge widely perceived to
have imposed a too-light sentence on Turner, the freshman swimmer
convicted of sexual assault in 2015.
had not heard of Talley’s situation until The Chronicle described it.
But she and several current and former students familiar with Stanford’s
policies agreed with Talley’s assessment that the university fails to
adequately punish students who commit sexual assault by kicking them out
university defended itself.
do not tolerate sexual assault at Stanford,” Miranda said. “We seek to
carefully weigh the facts and treat all parties fairly through our
adjudication process, including the investigation and imposed
Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle
Talley (right) is accuses Stanford University of protecting students
who commit sexual assault by downplaying the severity of their
behavior and rarely expelling them.
said her experience shows that Stanford does tolerate sexual assault.
Chronicle reviewed university records of the case, interviewed Talley
and attempted many times to reach the other former student involved,
without success. Stanford officials responded only to written questions
relayed through Miranda.
Chronicle is not naming the former student because he was not charged
with a crime. The Chronicle does not typically name victims of sexual
assault unless, like Talley, they wish to be identified.
week was in full force at Stanford in April 2014 when a friend of
Talley’s accepted a bid from his favorite fraternity. He invited her to
a written account she gave to Stanford investigators, Talley said she
felt exhausted on the night of the party and hadn’t been sleeping well
or eating enough for some time. She had a few drinks at the party. Her
next memory was waking up the next morning naked and sore, aware that
the student was in her room, and aware when he “slipped out,” according
to the account, a long letter she wrote to the student two years later
detailing her experience.
didn’t report what you did,” Talley wrote. “I refused to acknowledge
that it had been rape for weeks afterward.”
made excuses for you, convinced myself that I could have consented in my
blacked-out state, cursed myself for binge drinking, questioned whether
I had given you the wrong idea. I held onto that shame and guilt, as
though it was ever mine to carry,” she wrote.
she learned something that changed her mind. The student had spread the
news among their friends that they’d had a “hook-up,” Talley wrote.
waited two years, then reported the assault to the university days
before graduating in 2016.
course load was strenuous,” said Talley, who graduated with a degree in
human biology. “I didn’t know any other way than to put it by the
said her experience as an American Indian influenced her decision to
report the assault to the university instead of law enforcement. “As a Karuk person,
I’ve seen a lot of police violence. I’ve seen the system fail, and I
don’t have a lot of trust.”
all universities governed by Title IX, the federal civil rights law that
outlaws sex discrimination on campuses, Stanford has a system for
handling allegations of sexual misconduct, from harassment to assault.
The system lets them investigate, hold hearings and mete out discipline.
It doesn’t have the force of law.
December 2016, a three-member hearing panel — chosen from a pool of
faculty, staff and graduate students — concluded unanimously, as
required, that Talley’s former friend had sexually assaulted her.
preponderance of the evidence indicates that (he) committed sexual
assault by virtue of (her) state of incapacitation,” the panel wrote.
asked that the student be expelled, noting that “since I was drunk, I
could not give consent.”
cases of intoxication, California criminal law says a rape has occurred
if the person is prevented from resisting because he or she is drunk —
and that the accused knew or reasonably should have known.
policy in 2014, the year of Talley’s assault, said that a person must
consent to sexual intercourse — and that a drunk person cannot give
Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle
graduate Sinead Talley wrote in her 2016 appeal, “Providing my rapist
with a gracious invitation back to Stanford pending a brief period of
‘reflection’ disrespects myself and the moral stature of Stanford as
student argued in his written statement that he believed Talley had
I was intoxicated, too, so my judgment was impaired,” he wrote in his
defense. “I had no idea that she was in a blackout. ... I thought I was
having consensual sex.”
panel wrote: “We believe a reasonable, sober person would have
recognized (Talley’s) incapacitation, her inability to understand the
nature of the sexual situation, and thus her inability to give consent.”
panel agreed the sexual assault occurred but that the student did not
know she was intoxicated and decided that expelling him was “not
it imposed a two-quarter suspension, with training in consent and the
effects of alcohol.
is our sincere hope that this very serious sanction will enable (him) to
return to Stanford fully committed to maintaining the integrity and
safety” of the community, the panel wrote.
student’s suspension was to begin after he completed another suspension
“currently in place,” according to the 2016 record.
Stanford’s spokesman, declined to explain the other suspension but said
it was not for sexual misconduct.
said the student never returned to Stanford.
question of whether Stanford should expel students who sexually assault
their classmates erupted on campus in spring 2014, when a student named
Leah Francis organized rallies to protest the university’s handling of
the issue. That spring, campus investigators determined that a student
had sexually assaulted Francis in January. He was suspended briefly and
allowed to earn a degree.
Francis case energized protesters, who rallied on campus. An additional
7,000 people signed a petition urging the university to expel every
student found responsible for sexual assault.
case shook Stanford,” said Tessa Ormenyi, who graduated with Francis in
2014 and co-founded #StandWithLeah.
another case shook the university — and the world — after Turner, the
Stanford swimmer, sexually assaulted a woman outside a frat party in
January 2015. This time, the anonymous victim, calling herself Emily
Doe, brought criminal charges. At the sentencing hearing that June, Doe
read aloud a
letter she’d written to Turner describing the
depths to which his crime had affected her.
Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six
months in county jail.
media went wild, criticizing the sentence as a wrist slap. At
graduation, several students carried signs condemning
their school. “Stanford protects rapists,” read
one. “150 years of rape culture,” read another, referring to the age of
the venerable university. The Turner case also prompted California
lawmakers to expand
the state’s definition of rape.
gathered nearly 100,000 signatures in support of a ballot measure to
recall the judge. In June, Persky became the first California judge in
86 years to be voted out of office, with 60 percent of the vote against
it all, Stanford convened a task force to study its response to sexual
misconduct. Then, in February 2016, university officials enacted a
policy making expulsion the “expected sanction” for sexual assault. But
they did so only after narrowing the definition of sexual assault.
the new rules, anyone accused of having sex with an incapacitated person
— someone too drunk to give consent, for example — must have caused the
incapacitation or have “knowingly taken advantage of” an incapacitated
person to be found responsible for sexual assault.
rules now make it nearly impossible for any Stanford student to be held
responsible for sexual assault, said Emma Tsurkov, a doctoral student in
sociology, who serves as the student government’s representative on
easy way to get out of it is for the (accused) person to say they didn’t
know” the victim was incapacitated, she said.
Talley’s case, that’s what her assailant told the panel that would
decide his punishment.
it declined to expel the student, Talley appealed.
appeal officer offered a summary of the hearing panel’s reason for
finding the student responsible for sexual assault in the first place.
The panel found that Talley “had consumed a large amount of alcohol and,
given her diminutive stature, compounded by the lack of sleep and
skipped meals, was unable to give consent. The panel further found that
although (he) may not have known that (she) was incapacitated, a
reasonably sober person would have known.”
rejecting Talley’s request, the appeal officer said the panel had
“reasonably concluded that (he) neither induced nor knowingly took
advantage of an incapacitated person.”
called the panel’s decision troubling.
fact that we do not expel people who commit sexual assault means we
tolerate their presence in our community,” she said. “I don’t think
people walk around on campus contemplating rape. But in the moment, if
they thought they could lose their place at Stanford — that they could
get expelled — I think that could have a deterring effect.”
signed an agreement with Talley in March to reimburse her for fees
associated with the case, provide mental health counseling for five
years, and pay her $10,000 for that purpose. It also agreed to hear her
feedback about the university’s process.
a recent visit to the San Francisco office of her lawyer, Michael Bien,
Talley appeared disheartened.
get to the end and have them say, ‘Yeah, we unanimously agree, he
definitely assaulted you’ — and that warrants zero action,”
was beyond stressful, she said.
outcome “is not disappointing,” she added. “It’s criminal.”
Asimov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @NanetteAsimov