PALO ALTO >> Michele Dauber was a Stanford insider who found herself on the outside after publicly challenging the university to do more to protect its students.
Now, the law professor has placed herself at the forefront of the national conversation surrounding the sentencing of former Stanford athlete Brock Turner for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus.
Dauber is spearheading a campaign to recall Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, blasting his decision along with social norms that, she argues, make excuses for young men such as Turner, first-time offenders with long records of achievement.
“If Judge Persky’s measuring stick were applied,” Dauber said, “it would be unlikely that a prison sentence would ever be applied in a campus rape case.”
It is not a new role for Dauber, who is a close family friend of the Palo Alto woman sexually assaulted by Turner last year outside a fraternity party.
For years, her formidable legal and policy knowledge — and her eloquent, often searing, framing of the issue of campus sexual assault — have made Dauber a prominent figure in the movement to take the issue more seriously and more harshly punish offenders.
“Hands down, she’s done more for the survivors of sexual assault than anybody else on campus,” said Shelley Correll, who directs Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research.
Now Dauber — with the political action committee Progressive Women Silicon Valley — is trying to recall Persky, who agreed with a probation department recommendation that the 20-year-old Turner should be spared a mandatory, two-year prison sentence for the crime because of “unusual circumstances.” The judge sentenced the former scholarship swimmer, convicted in March of three counts of felony sexual assault, to six months in county jail.
MAKES AN EXCEPTION
Dauber said the decision to make an exception for a young, accomplished offender with no criminal history was “dangerous” for women on college campuses everywhere.
“Fewer survivors will report if they think their sexual assaults will not be taken seriously,” she said, “and we’re very concerned this sentence isn’t severe enough to deter other sexual assaults.”
Last week, Dauber was the first to tweet an excerpt of a letter Turner’s father’s wrote to the court, asking for mercy because the assault was only “20 minutes of action” in his son’s life — a plea that stoked the gathering outcry against the justice system. The tweet took on a life of its own, along with others from Dauber, who circles and underlines salient phrases in a professor’s red pen, adding vivid annotation to screenshots pulled from court records.
The case has galvanized unprecedented attention, from CNN reading on air nearly all of the victim’s 12-page impact statement, to a former judge turned House Republican calling for Persky’s ouster on the floor Thursday, to Vice President Joe Biden writing an open letter to the victim.
Dauber’s outspoken stance has set her apart on the Stanford campus, where faculty are generally loathe to criticize the administration, especially in the media.
ASSIST ASSAULT VICTIMS
For years, Dauber, a mother of five who lives in Palo Alto, worked behind the scenes to help sexual assault victims find services. She led the university’s judicial affairs committee and crafted new procedures to investigate campus rape allegations. But in 2014, when Stanford’s administration determined a student was not a threat to the campus after a review panel found he sexually assaulted a classmate in their hometown, Dauber — who served as an advocate for the young woman — spoke her mind.
“That makes no sense,” she said in an interview at the time. “A student who is responsible for sexual assault by force is a danger to the Stanford community by definition.”
Dauber’s pointed critique — that the punishment minimized the severity of the offense, making the campus less safe — is one of the key arguments she makes against Persky’s sentence.
“Honestly, I think the message it sends to women is, ‘You’re on your own,’ and the message it sends to potential perpetrators is, ‘Don’t worry, we have your back’”‰” she said.
She has called on Stanford to publicly apologize to Turner’s victim and pay for counseling services, supporting an online petition with more than 80,000 signatures.
Dauber — also a sociologist by training — ruffled feathers by pointing out flaws in a survey the university conducted last year to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault and other measures of students’ well-being.
Stanford’s news release on the findings led with a statistic widely seen as misleading: that just 1.9 percent of students — men and women — had experienced sexual assault. If the university had instead highlighted the percentage of female seniors who had been victims of sexual misconduct during their time at Stanford, Dauber said, the figure would have been 36.8 percent.
Dauber’s analysis did not please the administration, which maintained the survey was a valuable resource.
After a student referendum to redo the survey using a different tool passed with over 90 percent of the vote this spring, university spokeswoman Lisa Lapin told the Huffington Post’s Tyler Kingkade, “There really is a single primary critic and students who were in her class.” The statement was viewed on campus as singling out Dauber and minimizing the students’ opinions.
In response, more than 30 faculty members, 200 graduate students and about 100 alumni signed letters of concern about the survey.
Dauber said she also learned last year that a new class she offered on legal and political issues related to campus sexual assault might be canceled unless she included in the syllabus a tight restriction on activism in the students’ final projects. The course has been approved for the coming fall, with the restriction in place.
Stephanie Pham was among the students taking the course who went to Washington, D.C., last fall to meet a who’s who on women’s issues. Pham recalls Dauber charging across “chairs and the stage and steps and people” after a congressional hearing to reach Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, a champion for victims of sexual assault.
They laughed at the spectacle, she said, but it got them an unscheduled hour with the congresswoman — and, later, a visit to campus.
“I wish every college campus and institution had their own Professor Dauber,” Pham said, “because she knows how to make waves and how to make change for people.”
Originally posted by the Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Katy Murphy
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