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Stanford fires back at student's sex-assault lawsuit

University denies allegations, defends handling of cases

Stanford University has fired back at a student who alleged in a lawsuit filed earlier this week that the university failed to protect her and several other students from a "known sexual predator" on campus, calling her allegations "unfounded" and lacking "factual basis."

A legal response filed on Stanford's behalf on Thursday argues that the university did what it could, given what it describes as the initial unwillingness of the first alleged assault victim to move forward with an investigation, to pursue action against the male student.

This is in contrast to the lawsuit filed by a different female student Monday, which alleges Stanford acted with "deliberate indifference" to her and others' reports of sexual and physical violence involving this same male student over the course of several years.

Stanford's response strongly denies the allegations and defends its handling of the students' reports, noting the university's commitment to ending sexual violence on its campus and preventing "any confirmed rapists from graduating from Stanford."

"Sometimes, despite extraordinary efforts by committed staff, Stanford must choose between imperfect solutions in order to comply with a victim's wishes," the response states. "As the remainder of this answer demonstrates, Stanford cared deeply for the students described in the complaint and went to great lengths to honor the agency of the affected individuals to arrive at outcomes that, even if imperfect, aimed as best as possible to honor their wishes.

"Imperfect solutions should not be confused with deliberate indifference," the response states.

Stanford has requested that the court dismiss the student's complaint and provide the university with relief as deemed appropriate.

Though the student is only identified as Jane Doe in her complaint, the details of the case match those reported in a Jan. 22, 2016, Palo Alto Weekly story. (In the Weekly's story, Doe is the woman identified by the pseudonym "Celena Dako." All of the students' names in that story were changed at their requests to protect their privacy.)

Stanford first became aware of allegations against the male student in 2011, when a student identified in the lawsuit as "Ms. A" (identified as the pseudonym "Sara Ortiz" in the Weekly's story) told a university administrator she had been sexually assaulted but did not share details about what happened nor identify her alleged assailant, according to the university's response.

"Stanford cannot force victims of sexual assault to cooperate in its investigation, and Stanford cannot deny an accused student of an education based only on allegations without an opportunity to test those allegations in a thorough and fair process," the response states.

Ms. A said in previous interviews with the Weekly that she experienced discouraging responses from staff and administrators about proceeding with an investigation, including a suggestion to take time off to focus on her mental health and that certain options would be more "taxing" than others.

"The overall impression that I got from my meetings with administrators was that I needed to focus on my own well-being, that I was at risk and that going through anything else would just make that worse," she told the Weekly in a previous interview. "I remember feeling very discouraged about any kind of reporting process."

Under Stanford's Title IX policy, the university can move forward with an investigation without the consent of the alleged victim under a set of criteria established by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, including if there was conduct involving physical restraint or battery and if there have been multiple complaints about a single student. Ms. A has alleged that the male student, identified in the lawsuit as "Mr. X," choked her until she almost lost consciousness, made threatening remarks and then raped her.

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who provided support to Doe in her case, said in an interview that in cases of serious allegations of physical and sexual violence, a college must balance overall campus safety against a survivor's wishes.

"Even though it is obviously preferable if you don't have to go do an investigation over the objection of survivor, sometimes that's unavoidable because both state and federal law require colleges and universities to maintain campus safety and to protect the rights of all students," she said.

Ms. A first named Mr. X to the university in early 2012, according to Stanford, and was informed of her options to pursue formal action against him. She requested that the university issue a no-contact order and that a residence dean meet with Mr. X to discuss the alleged assault, rather than pursue an investigation, according to Stanford. Stanford complied with both requests.

Given the "seriousness" of her allegations, the next month, administrators "gently encouraged Ms. A to reconsider her decision not to initiate a disciplinary process," the response states. Ms. A reiterated that she did not want to pursue disciplinary action but did "indicate a willingness to proceed" if other students reported concerns about Mr. X, according to the response. She has told the Weekly she requested the university to inform her if other victims came forward.

In April 2014, a second female student, Doe, reported that Mr. X had assaulted her in a Stanford dorm. Stanford launched an investigation at her request. The university combined a third complaint about Mr. X that came two months later from a third female student, identified as "Ms. B," into the same investigation.

Doe, Ms. B and Mr. X eventually agreed to an informal resolution that banned him from campus for 15 years, instituted a permanent no-contact order between him and the three women and put a two-year hold on his degree, among other consequences.

Because Doe herself agreed to this informal resolution, waiving her right to appeal or initiate a disciplinary investigation, Stanford's response states, "There is no basis for (her) claims."

Ms. A has said that Stanford failed to inform her, as she had requested, that other women filed reports about Mr. X. Stanford could not do so due to student privacy laws, according to the response.

Stanford is concerned, the response reads, that "unfounded allegations" such as those in Doe's lawsuit "could have a chilling effect on survivors of sexual assault, whom Stanford encourages to come forward."

Equal Rights Advocates, the San Francisco-based civil-rights organization that along with two law firms filed Doe's lawsuit this week, declined to comment for this story.

Doe's complaint seeks a jury trial to determine the amount of damages she is owed due to Stanford's alleged negligence, deprivation of equal access to education, emotional harm and past and future financial costs, the lawsuit states. Stanford does not believe her claim warrants a jury trial, according to the response.

Ms. A and Doe have each filed federal complaints with the Office for Civil Rights against Stanford alleging Title IX violations. Their cases remain under investigation, as do two other separate cases.

Stanford also came under fire this week from another former student, Leah Francis, who said the university offered her $60,000 for therapy expenses on the condition she drop her Office for Civil Rights complaint.

Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said in a statement that Francis' allegations "fundamentally misrepresent" what took place in legal discussions. 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," she said.

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The Palo Alto Weekly has created an archive of past news articles, social media reaction and other content related to the ongoing sexual assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.

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Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Comments

26 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 10, 2016 at 9:36 am

Stanford is sending a clear message here that removing violent criminals from campus is the responsibility of the victims, not the school and the school has no intention of changing its policies. I hope everyone learns from this going forward. If you want a safer school, victims need to take their cases to professional law enforcement, not academic bureaucrats whose primary interest is protecting the school's reputation.

While the outcome of the Brock Turner case was not satisfactory to that victim, I think the public outcry shows that the public does support the victims in cases like this and future cases may turn out differently.


12 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2016 at 9:10 pm

Of course Stanford is fighting this, it may cost them dearly, as it should! Money is just about the only thing that motivates Stanford. It seems that student safety does not.


Like this comment
Posted by betsy
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 13, 2016 at 11:22 am

[Post removed.]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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