The district attorney in Juneau, Alaska, has announced that his office will not be bringing any charges in a sexual-assault case filed this spring by Juneau resident and Stanford University student Leah Francis against another Stanford student.
"There's absolutely nothing about the screening decision that suggests that Ms. Francis' genuine feelings of victimization aren't valid," Scott told the Juneau Empire. "It's simply that in order to convince 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt that a sexual assault occurred, I have to be able to prove every element (of the crime). And in this case, I can't."
Francis, a 21-year-old senior, went public with her story in June after becoming frustrated with what she has described has a delayed and flawed judicial process at Stanford.
Francis' story gained attention nationwide as media reported on the growing debate over colleges' and universities' responses to students' reports of sexual assault.
Francis reported the Jan. 1 assault to the university on Jan. 7 and also filed a police report soon after it happened. The case was passed to Scott's office.
Under Alaska law, the standard for determining whether an assault is rape hinges on whether the victim verbally says "no" or does something to indicate strong lack of consent.
"If they don't communicate lack of consent, then we look at the circumstances to say, 'Well, was it obvious that she wasn't consenting?'" Scott told the Juneau Empire. "In this case, we do not have sufficient evidence to overcome the fact that we would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect recklessly disregarded her lack of consent."
Francis told the Weekly Monday that she was not surprised by the district attorney's decision based on past cases and looking at the law, but said that the focus on what she did during the assault amounts to victim blaming. She describes her ex-boyfriend's actions as happening so fast, in the middle of the night on New Year's Eve, that it was difficult to respond. She had gone to his home, and they went to sleep in the same bed. She said she woke up at some point with him on top of her, pinning her down with his weight and moving her underwear to the side. He penetrated her for about two minutes, she said, forcing her tampon to push into her cervix.
"I was asleep; I was intoxicated; I didn't feel like I could stop him. I didn't feel like I could speak. ... I tried to put my hands on his chest to push him away, but apparently in the eyes of the state of Alaska, that isn't enough of a fight. I was a deer in headlights," she said.
"The laws basically say to victims, 'If you don't act correctly while you're being raped, then the law will not protect you.'" she added. "I don't think anyone should be judging the way that someone reacts to an assault that's so psychologically damaging."
Kristin Swanson, an Alaska attorney representing the male student, has released a statement on his behalf. It maintains his innocence and condemns Stanford's investigation, which found him responsible for sexual assault.
"The Juneau Police Department and the Juneau District Attorney's office fully investigated the allegations and came to the correct decision not to charge him. No crimes were committed," the statement reads.
"While the Juneau Police were investigating the allegations, Stanford did their own civil investigation of an event the occurred off-campus, thousands of miles away. Universities lack the investigative capabilities and experience of law enforcement agencies and are ill-suited to handle a case like this one. Unfortunately, Stanford enabled false accusations and their faulty decision gave the accuser undue credibility."
Swanson also criticized the media and "various persons with their own personal and political agendas" for "fann(ing) the accusations without knowing the facts."
Swanson was not available for further comment Monday.
Two weeks ago, Stanford announced various efforts it is undertaking to review and improve its handling of sexual assault cases. A task force of almost 20 students, faculty and staff has been named and is charged with reviewing and issuing recommendations on university policies on and responses to sexual assault. The university is also creating a new online pre-orientation education program on sexual assault for incoming students; debuting a New Student Orientation (NSO) program called "Facing Reality: Cultivating a Community of Respect & Consent" at September orientation; hiring an additional Title IX investigator to help ensure cases are completed within the recommended 60 days; and distributing a campus climate survey during the next academic year to solicit student opinion on the prevalence of sexual assault and misconduct, among other things.
Francis said she's not convinced that the university's efforts will be effective.
"There's going to be some educational programming that comes out of it but as far as sustainable, real changes to the way that assaults are dealt with on campus, changes to ARP (Alternative Review Process), these things I'm not convinced the things that matter the most are going to change in a way that is effective until the federal government gets involved," she said.
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