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Rape At Colleges: Victims Challenge Policies Favoring Attackers

Publication Date: 
January 25, 2014
San Jose Mercury News
Katy Murphy

Professor Michele Dauber spoke with the San Jose Mercury News on how college campuses are handling sexual assault cases and why it's taken so long for most to confront the issue. 

At UC Berkeley, student sex offenders go through the same disciplinary process as those caught cheating on an exam, their punishment -- sometimes as light as a warning and an essay -- decided in informal talks with the university.

Campus assault victims often turn to their colleges for justice in addition to -- or instead of -- going to the police. However, Cal held a formal hearing for just one of the 32 student sexual misconduct cases it investigated from 2011 to 2013, according to information obtained by this newspaper.


A fear of negative attention has long caused colleges to avoid confronting sexual assault, said Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who spurred an overhaul of her campus's disciplinary process for sex offenses.

"These universities, they're big, multibillion-dollar corporations," Dauber said. "They don't want to do anything that rocks the boat, and talking about rape is scary."


Until 2010, Stanford's disciplinary system -- like UC Berkeley's, for all types of student conduct violations -- was so uncomfortable for assault victims that few came forward. The suspects could cross-examine their accusers, asking questions about their sexual past, Dauber said.

"Having the 18-year-old rape victim be cross-examined by the guy who raped her? That's just wrong, wrong, wrong," she said.


In the first three years Stanford tested the new procedure, 11 of 53 assault victims came forward to have their cases heard, Dauber said. In the previous 12 years, only four of 175 did so.


Dauber and others say they hope the movement creates lasting change, ending the silence around rape.

"It's hard for girls -- or boys -- who've had this experience to talk about it. It's hard. There's a lot of shame and stigma around it," she said. "We'd like to live in a world where it's not sex, it's rape."