Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Today’s forecast is nonconsent: The sexual assault emergency of campus climate

On October 1st, President Hennessy and Provost Etchemendy released the results of a survey conducted late last academic year concerning sexual assault on campus. In Spring 2015, the survey was released in order to obtain information on the prevalence of sexual assault, harassment and relationship violence at Stanford, and gauge student attitudes on safety, wellbeing, and trust on campus. Not coincidentally, it came after the news of a federal investigation into Stanford’s handling of sexual assault cases and a long string of student activism.

I opened the email last night and was instantly drawn to this statistic: the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, as described in the email and in the report, was stated to be 1.9% of all students. “To us, any number above zero is unacceptable” declared Hennessy and Etchemendy, and as I read on, the message briefly touched on “strengthened prevention, support, response, and adjudication mechanisms” before concluding. Vague and somewhat optimistic, I thought. A very administration-esque response.

I closed the email and stared at my computer for several minutes, puzzled, feeling that something was off with the words I had just read. 2% was a low rate of sexual assault – ridiculously low, compared to what I knew about other universities and the sexual assault epidemic that is running rampant on college campuses nationwide. I downloaded the 35-page report, frowned at its length, and went off to dinner. I would read it later that night.

It was 9 p.m., and I was on page three of the report. A distinction was being made between “sexual assault” and “sexual misconduct,” with the key factor being “threat of violence, force, and/or when the respondent was incapacitated.” With this definition, the following data was reported concerning rates of sexual assault: For undergraduates, 6.6% of “gender-diverse” students, 4.7% of cisgender women and .6% of cisgender men had experienced what constituted “sexual assault.” These were the numbers that had been averaged out to give the surprisingly low statistic of 1.9%.

There are several ways in which these numbers are misleading. While the report had clear statistics on the percentage of Stanford students in general, these numbers do not accurately summarize the undergraduate experience – when some students have been on campus for one year and some for four, how can their experiences be similarly weighted? The report did include the more exact data on undergraduate seniors – for cisgender undergraduate women, 6.5% have experienced sexual assault, according to Stanford’s definition, and it is this number that can be said to accurately represent what percentage of cis women can expect to experience sexual assault during their time at Stanford.

6.5% is almost certainly too small a number. For a response to be categorized as sexual assault during the survey, a student had to first describe their inability to object as due to alcohol or drugs (coercion led to a categorization of the entry as “sexual misconduct”), as well as the “asleep or unconscious and unable to resist” item. A failure to select both options led to a categorization of the entry as “sexual misconduct,” and not “sexual assault.”  This narrow and misleading entry mechanism further lowered the percentage of students whose experiences of rape were accurately entered.

Furthermore, focusing on the statistics of assault alone is not nearly enough. While Stanford defines sexual assault and misconduct as distinctly separate, we cannot grudgingly accept one and write off the other. For those students whose experiences aren’t deemed “bad enough” to be included in Stanford’s collective sympathy, it can be easy to feel abandoned by peers and administration alike. The data, from page 25 of the report: for undergraduate seniors whose experiences constituted what Stanford calls “sexual misconduct,” an additional 36.8% of cisgender women reported in.

So what does this all mean? Given that the categories of “assault” and “misconduct” were defined exclusive to each other, the math is easy: for senior undergraduate cis women, at least 43.3% have experienced some form of serious Prohibited Sexual Contact, according to Stanford’s definitions.

This is a far cry from the 1.9% statistic that Stanford administration is choosing to focus on. When more than two-fifths of cisgender undergraduate women at Stanford experience nonconsensual activity that Stanford recognizes, this is an emergency, not simply a “concerning issue.” And what of those activities that Stanford recognizes as “nonconsensual sexual contact” but aren’t “bad enough” to qualify as assault or misconduct? If somebody aggressively kisses me at a party or suddenly pulls off my clothing without consent – it doesn’t matter?

We need to indict this system that disproportionately inflicts violence and trauma onto cisgender women and “gender diverse” students, and hurts cisgender men as collateral damage. It isn’t just about policies and regulations – it’s about the culture we have on campus that licenses and enables nonconsent to embed itself in our daily activities and lives. There need to be cultural solutions for cultural problems – and along with that, critical interrogation of our own beliefs and values. We are all part of the problem until we are part of the solution, and that starts with recognizing the state of emergency we are in.  

Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Lily Zheng

Lily Zheng '17, is a weekly columnist for The Stanford Daily, a Social Psychology major and co-president of the student group Kardinal Kink. Her weekly column revolves around consent culture, queer and trans identity, social justice and activism. In her spare time, she enjoys wearing too much black clothing, accidentally sleeping in her makeup and spending quality time with her partners. Contact her at lilyz8 'at' stanford.edu – she loves messages!
  • Commentator

    “In addition, another 14 percent of students surveyed – and nearly
    one-third of undergraduate women surveyed – reported experiencing some
    other form of sexual misconduct, including nonconsensual touching,
    during their time at Stanford. This is a striking and troubling finding”.
    I agree that using all undergraduates for data skews it strongly because of underclassmen, but I don’t see much false reporting on Stanford’s part. No one said sexual misconduct isn’t “bad enough” (except yourself); the numbers tell a very serious problem in all cases. Telling the problem literally as it is is not underestimating it.

  • Frank

    So you complain that the numbers for sexual assault victims are too high and we have need more legislation to change that. The. A study comes out showing the numbers are a bit lower than we though. And you’re not even slightly encouraged but you complain because the numbers are too low? It almost seems like you’re more interested in preserving a state of panic and emergency than with actually solving the problem. I agree with the statement that one assault is one too many.

  • Fitz

    Props to stanford execs for using the proper definition of sexual assault and not disrespecting certain victims by lumping in women who have been pinned down and violently penetrated to women who suffer life long trauma from a drunk guy grabbing their waists at a frat party

  • Pretty much

    Once again proving that “rape culture” is nothing more than a hoax perpetuated by crazy feminists

  • Thank you

    Seriously. It’s like some of these girls get drunk, climb into bed naked with their hook up buddy, and then cry assault when he tries to cop a feel.

    Honey, what did you expect? You have no one to blame but yourself.

  • mogden

    Another absurdly overblown crisis. This is the modern day Satanist’s preschool.

  • Kay

    This paragraph is technically incorrect:

    ” For a response to be categorized as sexual assault during the survey, a student had to first describe their inability to object as due to alcohol or drugs (coercion led to a categorization of the entry as “sexual misconduct”), as well as the “asleep or unconscious and unable to resist” item. A failure to select both options led to a categorization of the entry as “sexual misconduct,” and not “sexual assault.” ”

    If the student indicated being subject to physical coercion, then the response was also categorized as sexual assault.

  • Kenneth Cole-Rieser

    Oh Lily, such a great propagandist… but when it comes to facts, well, no…

  • student

    Firsthand, this is exactly what happens at Stanford in even some of the recent high-profile cases. You forgot the step where they don’t even think about it until they’re joking about it with their friends a week later and one of them decides it’s assault.

  • Dylan

    “I closed the email and stared at my computer for several minutes, puzzled, feeling that something was off with the words I had just read.”

    I feel you, I had the same reaction to this article.

  • amanda doe

    Lily my dear, smell the coffee and wake up. Rape is at a 40 year low, and rapes are higher among non-college students than college students. Source: Dept. of Justice http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5176 If you’re looking to be part of the sisterhood of victimhood I pity you. Rape culture is a hoax.