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Stanford University Says It Will Not Alter Sexual Assault Survey, Despite Student Criticisms

Some Stanford University students have asked the school to re-administer its climate survey, citing issues with the wording concerning sexual assault.

CREDIT: Flickr user David Schexnaydre.

Students at Stanford University are protesting the school’s refusal to re-administer a campus climate survey. The survey in question was given to the student body in 2015 as a way of tallying how many students had experienced some degree of sexual assault, but some students say the wording of the survey may have discouraged respondents from reporting. Now, students have petitioned for a recall, citing examples like the survey’s narrow definition of sexual assault as justification.

The Huffington Post writes:

“By Stanford’s reckoning, an encounter qualifies as “sexual assault” if the victim was incapacitated, or if the assailant used force or the threat of violence. This means, for example, that if someone was sexually penetrated without their consent, but they weren’t incapacitated at the time and they weren’t threatened with force or violence, their experience doesn’t count…”

This definition is dismissive of the fact that 75-90 percent of sexual assaults on campus happen at the hands someone the victim knows, which doesn’t always need to involve a one-size fits all definition of “force,” “threat of violence” or the survivor being “incapacitated.”

Stanford’s narrow definition implies a culture where the victim loses his or her ability to say no to a sexual act, which in many cases is not the same as being able to enthusiastically say yes. Affirmative consent, or a “yes means yes” standard of consent, is the law at public universities across California thanks to a new law passed last year by the state legislature.

At the time of the passing of California’s “yes means yes” standard, California State Senator Kevin De León (D) explained that under the default standard of consent, “[Victims] have to prove to themselves, to a prosecutor, to a district attorney to a panel on a college campus, that they affirmatively said no.” A “yes means yes” policy, on the other hand, shifts that burden away from the survivor.

Students are asking Stanford to readminister the survey with broader definitions and clearer statements as a way to make the campus a safer and more transparent place.

“While the university may continue to ignore the overwhelming support for a new survey, this campaign is not over,” said Matthew Cohen, student senator, to the Huffington Post. “As a senator who was re-elected to a second term, I will continue advocating for a new campus climate survey on sexual violence.”

The University has opposed the idea, stating: “Sufficient time has not passed to achieve the primary purpose of the survey, which is to see whether efforts that have only recently been implemented will have an impact on campus climate and student conduct.”

Vivian Nunez is a reporter with Generation Progress.

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