Stanford University has ended its professional relationship with an attorney, Crystal Riggins, who spoke out publicly against the university’s internal process for handling sexual assault complaints. Riggins was one of six attorneys who provided legal guidance to students and was the only attorney who exclusively represented accusers. The university provides attorneys for students involved in sexual assault complaints under Title IX, a federal law that protects victims of sexual assault on college campuses.
In a New York Times article on December 29, Riggins expressed frustration about Stanford’s requirement that a three-member panel unanimously find an accused student guilty of sexual assault. “It is very difficult to get a 3-0 decision from a panel, and these young women are terrified and traumatized and just want it to be done,” said Riggins.
Lauren Schoenthaler, a Stanford administrator who oversees reviews of sexual assault complaints, said in a letter to Riggins that her comments indicated a lack of faith in Stanford’s Title IX process. “Given your stated lack of confidence,” she said, “it does not make sense for the university to continue to refer our students to you.”
The Federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has four open investigations into complaints made by students against Stanford for the way the university has handled sexual assault cases in recent years.
Stanford is one of only two schools with the rigorous requirement for a panel of board members to reach a unanimous decision to find an accused student guilty. Victims’ rights advocates say this system strongly favors the accused.
Riggins has two pending cases with the university and plans to continue to represent those students involved. She has said she will continue to provide legal guidance to students who are willing to hire her independently for Title IX cases at Stanford.
Riggins has made several suggestions to improve Stanford’s sexual assault compliant process and the level of fairness of the system. “As a zealous advocate, my only duty is to the student-parties that I represent,” said Riggins. “I am greatly concerned that my removal from the Stanford-identified attorney list will disadvantage complaining students.”
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