Stanford’s Many Dubious Sexual Assault Claims

While Yale is the only institution required by the Federal government to outline its campus sexual assault adjudications, (albeit in an increasingly limited way), a second university — Stanford — has now started to do so. As with Yale, these reports unintentionally reveal the moral panic over sexual assault on many of the nation’s leading campuses.

The current Stanford report appeared over the pen of Stanford University spokesperson Kathleen Sullivan. It contends that Stanford is an extremely dangerous campus (about at the level of danger as Yale)—with 30 rapes listed in the 2016-2017 academic year. For comparison’s sake, this means that the Stanford campus had more rapes in one academic year as did the city of Palo Alto in the last four years combined. Stanford isn’t an island: if these figures were anywhere near accurate, it would mean the Stanford campus should be the Palo Alto Police Department’s number one priority.

Sullivan’s report later suggests, however, that passing outside of the campus walls might yield a different understanding of rape. Five of Stanford’s cases were reported to police. According to the report, “No charges and/or convictions resulted from those five investigations.” (The wording is odd here: did each of these cases not even rise to the level of probable cause necessary for prosecutors to bring a charge? Or did some yield not-guilty verdicts at trial? Sullivan doesn’t say.) Regardless, the zero-for-five ratio shows the difference between a campus system that too often presumes guilt and a criminal justice system that provides the defendant with protections of due process.

Beyond these five cases, fourteen others featured no adjudication at all. In ten cases, the accuser wouldn’t or couldn’t identify the alleged perpetrator; in four other cases, Stanford handled matters informally, at the request of the accuser. That is: in 14 of the 30 rape allegations, the sole issue was accommodations for the accuser, not adjudication.

That left 11 rape allegations that Stanford investigated. Six of these didn’t go to a hearing. Two or three of the accused students pled guilty (and were either expelled or received long suspensions). But at least a few of these allegations resulted in a formal decision not to charge, and other cases where the resolution suggested no admission of guilt (education or no-contact orders). Five cases, meanwhile, went to hearings; three yielded guilty findings, two not-guilty.

So, of the 30 rape allegations at Stanford in 2016-7, none of those reported to police yielded guilty findings, and only five or six guilty findings came in a university system that’s less unfair than it once was but still is no paragon of due process. Yet even though at least 80 percent of the rape allegations didn’t produce a guilty finding, not one of these 25 was listed at Stanford as an unfounded claim in its Clery Act report—a good reminder of the unwillingness of universities to make such a designation in the context of sexual assault, lest they generate protest from accusers’ rights groups or their faculty allies, such as Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber. Even Harvard, whose adjudication process is so notoriously one-sided as to generate public dissent from more than two dozen Harvard Law professors, listed two unfounded claims in 2016-2017.

The Sullivan Report has another odd component: it appears to use “rape” and “sexual assault” interchangeably, despite the differences between the two types of offenses. Sullivan offers no explanation for this decision.

Another report, from Stanford Provost Persis Drell, offers a little more insight into the situation at Stanford. Drell’s report covered allegations from March 2016 through May 2017, thus including four months of cases that Sullivan’s did not, and excluding around two months of cases (June 2017 and some portion of May 2017) that made Sullivan’s report.

Drell portrayed conditions even more apocalyptically than had Sullivan: “In any given room of women,” said she, “80 percent to 90 percent of us have either personally experienced sexual violence or have witnessed its devastating effects first hand on a very close friend or family member.”

Yet Drell’s statistics painted a quite different story. Of the eight Title IX tribunals that met during the 15 months covered in her report, four yielded not-guilty findings (three unanimously, one by a 2-1 vote). And of the four guilty findings, none yielded expulsions—suggesting that the offense was somewhere short of forcible rape. In addition to the four not-guilty findings, seven more allegations never even went to a hearing, presumably due to insufficient evidence, after an investigation by the Stanford Title IX office.

There were fourteen additional allegations. (At least six, and perhaps all fourteen, of these allegations also appeared in the Sullivan Report.) In three of these cases, the accused student clearly pled guilty. But the other eleven cases were resolved with “no-contact directives and other remedies”—outcomes, in short, that carried no implication of guilt.

This data suggests not an epidemic but instead, a campus environment in which students (perhaps understandably, responding to a radicalized campus culture) bring allegations that are so dubious even Stanford’s procedures can’t justify a guilty finding.

These figures, it’s worth noting, coincided with Stanford’s decision to create a slightly fairer system—to define rape as California does in its criminal code, to allow guilty findings only by a 3-0 hearing vote, and to give accused students some trained (legal) assistance. These changes altered the ostentatiously unfair system created by Dauber, which existed from 2010 through 2015. Based on the material from Drell’s report, one can only imagine how many wrongful guilty findings occurred under the Dauber system.

The Drell Report challenged prevailing accusers’ rights narratives in two other ways. First, it found no over-representation of either athletes or fraternity members among accused students. (Athletes, in fact, were underrepresented.) And 75 percent of cases involved alcohol or drug use by one or both parties, suggesting that attention to these matters could help reduce campus crime.

As with the Spangler Reports at Yale, material from the Drell and Sullivan reports suggests that Betsy DeVos is on the right track in her efforts to move beyond the use of Title IX tribunals as de facto kangaroo courts.

Editor’s Note: The first paragraph was revised for clarity on October 13, 2017. 


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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7 thoughts on “Stanford’s Many Dubious Sexual Assault Claims

  1. Persis Drell’s reports are truly farcical and an embarrassment to Stanford- and yet she is Provost .
    Last years report started with a quote that “40% of Stanford women students will experience sexual violence before they graduate”.
    When you read the fine print, it turned out she defined “Sexual Violence” to mean a bunch of bad stuff, but also “any unwanted touching” and other trivial things.
    So, who thinks of “sexual violence” as the guy who is trying to make a clumsy move and pats the girl on the back when she really isn’t into him, making her slightly uncomfortable? That is “sexual violence” – predictably , MIchele Dauber used the quote without giving the definition to claim there was an epidemic, something needs to be done -and so forth.
    So, to me you have a Stanford – most prestigious school in the US in some way- Provost – among the top people – basically spewing out garbage, intentionally, knowing beyond any doubt it will be misused. I don’t see brilliance, I do not even see someone worthy of being called an intellectual – I man, words have meanings – I’ve had people touch me when I did not want them to, and I know it was not ‘sexual violence”

    Comparing last years report by Drell with the latest one is worthwhile – now Drell, a physicist, is saying there were 200 reported assaults on campus in the past year – doing some math- if 2,000 women graduate every year-and there are 200 assaults – and I think most people would think “sexual violence” is worse than assault – I mean someone pats your butt- that is assault – but not violence – anyway, 200/2000 is 10% who are reporting “assault” – not 40% reporting “violence” . Drell is getting closer to real numbers but it seems to be very difficult and painful for her.

    Last point – MIchele Duaber of Stanford has been hugely dishonest about the Brock Turner case and the Recall Persky movement- I hope Professor Johnson will write about it.

  2. 1. Colleges are by far left-leaning, “progressive” institutions.
    2. They are loci of LGBTQ activism.
    3. Their self-reported levels of sexual assault including rape outpace the rest of society.

    Is there a causal connection between leftist goverance and sexual assault?

  3. Male students should be encouraged to file conduct code violations when malicious false allegations are made against them. That schools do not make apparent that they have this right seems to me itself a Title IX violation.

  4. That anyone, with a straight face, let alone a Stanford Provost, can tell us, “In any given room of women…80 percent to 90 percent of us have either personally experienced sexual violence or have witnessed its devastating effects first hand on a very close friend or family member.”, tells us only that this roomful of women has not only drunk the ‘Rape Epidemic’ KoolAid, but they’ve also swallowed the Blue “Sexual Violence” Pill. And now, within that matrix’d world, they’ve come to believe that anything and everything which they perceive (before, during, or after the event in question) as “unwanted” becomes somehow, through some mysterious alchemic process, “sexual violence” (sexual assault / rape).

    This, of course, is absolutely untrue.

    It is untrue first & foremost because the simple act of ‘unwanting’ is completely & utterly meaningless. That I ‘unwant’ something tells us nothing about what I did or said as a participant in whatever act I am describing. It tells us nothing about whether or not what I ‘unwanted’ was or was not real….or threatening…or dangerous….or outrageous…or immoral/unethical/perverse/ or wrong….or, conversely… was right, was invited, was welcomed, was enjoyed, was reasonably assumed by our partner. It tells us nothing about what I actually communicated (via word or deed) or whether what I actually communicated was or was not aligned with this psychological condition called ‘unwanting’. It is a meaningless stipulation which makes the sexual assault definition which hangs upon it equally meaningless.

    It is untrue also because in any given partnered incident, the perspective of one participant does not and cannot exclusively define the event which occurs only as a function of both participants. That I say act “X” was unwanted can be counterbalanced entirely by my partner’s assertion that act “X” was invited. Without any evidence to lend weight or credence to either assertion, neither can be taken as accurately descriptive ….and both, in fact, may be.

    It is untrue because, in that partnered incident, it is entirely possible (likely in fact) that each participant will see & hear each portion of that incident quite legitimately in entirely different ways (particularly if both have been drinking). Like 6 Blind Men describing an elephant, each experiences the ‘animal’ differently, accurately, and significantly incompletely. The man who describes the elephant as ‘tree-like’ is just as right as the man who describes it as ‘snake-like’. That the descriptions radically differ, tells us only that they perceived it differently — each perception accurate unto itself.

    It is untrue because both the FBI and the Clery Stats paint a sexual assault picture completely at the other end of the spectrum. Clery in particularly (as a sexual assault reporting tool designed exclusively for Colleges & Universities) tells us that there were only ~ 3500 alleged incidents reported (to campus authorities, not police) across a population of 6M women attending approximately 1500 different institutions. This generates an alleged incident rate of .05%. Assuming each year of a college career is similar, that yields a 4 yr “assault probability” of ~.2%…. not the 20% which is commonly reported and overwhelmingly not the 80-90% asserted by Provost Drell.

    Unfortunately when we corrupt our definitions of what is, in fact, a felony crime (second only to murder in terms of the severity of personal violation) we corrupt our understanding of what is and is not criminal. When we, through this corruption, make sexual assault any sexual contact or behavior which is undesired, then everything potentially becomes an assault: all the way from violent rape to a bad joke or dirty picture…to an unwanted kiss.

    This corruption is intolerable.

    But given that corruption, the only surprise in the 80-90% number is that it didn’t reach 100%. After all, is there anyone among us who cannot look back at a confused and confusing adolescence — when none of us knew up from down, when we all were lonely, anxious, depressed, hopeful, horny, clumsy; all of us easily misunderstood, easily misunderstanding (and way too many of us too often drunk) – who among us has not had some sort of sexual interaction which was unwanted, that we did not regret (at the time, the next morning, the next week, even still today)?

    That not everything we experience is desired should go without saying. That’s life. But that does not make the undesired thing a felony crime. Someone should explain all this to that roomful of women who are evidently still quite seriously confused.

  5. Male students should be encouraged to file conduct code violations when malicious false allegations are made against them. That schools do not make apparent that they have this right seems to me itself a Title IX violation.

  6. Glad to read positive things about Persus Drell. My wife knows her slightly through the Wellesley Alumni organization, my daughter went through school with Persus’s sister, and I have heard her speak. She is absolutely brilliant.

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