News

Alaska DA will not bring charges in Stanford sexual-assault case

District attorney rules there is insufficient evidence to prove rape under Alaska law

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.

District Attorney James Scott could not be reached for comment Monday, but he told the Juneau Empire newspaper on Friday that there is insufficient evidence to prove that Francis was raped by the male Stanford student, her ex-boyfriend, in his home in Alaska over winter break.

"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.

Related content: Expelling students for sexual violence has been proposed before

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 2:03 pm

It's sad, but it is a he said, she said situation. [Portion removed.] I also do not think that Stanford University is the primary authority to rule on this alleged crime, as it took place far off campus. I agree with her reporting it to university authorities to keep them in the information loop so that IF he were charge/convicted, then they could take steps to punish him regarding his status as an ongoing student at the university. We are in a tricky era where universities are being pressured by the Obama Administration to step up to try to better manage these unfortunate situations, which span a wide range from extreme physical attacks to date rape to cases where neither party really recalls what happened owing to impairment.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 2:21 pm

At a broader level, concerning is the lack of focus on the alcohol consumption surrounding rapes. Perpetrators and victims. Anyone care to sue the alcohol companies? They are inhibiting people from protecting themselves, and fueling high risk situations.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Both of the above comments are blaming the victim, no matter what the posters may claim or think. Why not put more attention on the rapist instead of entirely on the victim?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ken
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2014 at 2:58 pm

[Portion removed.]

The critical issue is that the police should investigate, not the faculty. The Alaska police investigated, and did not charge the guy. What is Stanford doing, here? I think he may have a tort against Stanford, if his lawyer wants to bring it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by feedback
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 3:11 pm

parent,

In this case, alcohol appears to be part of the rationale for not convicting. At least there should be fair warning to everyone, that alcohol will be part of the legal case, and victim loses. Or change the laws and make sure everyone knows that being drunk still means you're innocent. Calling people victim blamers won't help anything in what appears to be an epidemic.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MIke
a resident of University South
on Aug 11, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Parent says, "Why not put more attention on the rapist instead of entirely on the victim?" Because he is not a "rapist", but rather the "accused".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 12, 2014 at 12:09 pm

KP is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]
Oh, and btw, this wasn't on Stanford campus, so I always wondered why anyone thought Stanford should be involved. Do you report this kind of incident to your place of work, too? Just curious.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by True Blue
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm

True Blue is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by True Blue
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 13, 2014 at 9:55 pm

True Blue is a registered user.

Excellent - the PA Weekly is here to ensure there is no diversity of views presented here. The only accepted view is to pity the "victim" and persecute the "accused."

[Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:26 am

KP is a registered user.

I don't understand why my post was removed??? Are we not allowed to have an OPINION?!?!

True Blue - I don't know what you wrote, but I guess you're not allowed an opinion either.
This is why people don't take responsibility for their own actions....no one wants to let them hear that they may have played a part. Kids these days try to get out of everything. And their parents help them. "Poor little Johnny - It wasn't his fault"
Hmmmm!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PowerMax
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2014 at 4:50 pm

PowerMax is a registered user.

Is it possible for the author of the story to expand on why the Alaska DA would be involved when the crime occurred here? I get that the two people involved were from AK, but I've never of that before. Is this common? Or was it more of a novel approach due to differences in the way the crime is described?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Those 183 Votes
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Those 183 Votes is a registered user.

@PawerMax,

"Is it possible for the author of the story to expand on why the Alaska DA would be involved when the crime occurred here? "

The crime occurred in Alaska. The only reason it is being dealt with at Stanford is because both victim and accuser attend Stanford. Stanford has a responsibility to make sure students have a safe learning environment. That involves making sure the victim is safe from the accused.

You might also reconsider asking for information from the "author" of the article in the Weekly. The Weekly's article is pretty much a word for word copy of the Juneau Empire newspaper's article. See: Web Link

In fact this article is so similar it would be viewed as plagiarism anywhere else. The journalist only attributes one quote to the Juneau Empire. How has the Weekly got to this new low?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2014 at 11:33 pm

rick is a registered user.

Is it policy or law why the accused has never been named in the press?


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