I was outraged and disgusted to read David White’s column (“Harvard’s new sex harassment policy: brilliance at last,” 9/17). Harvard’s new policy, rather than being “brilliance,” effectively perpetuates the deeply rooted culture of silence and shame that surrounds sexual assault. The federal government reports that one in four college women will be the targets of rape or attempted rape during their four years at school. Eighty-five percent of college rapes are rapes by a person the victim knows, but only 5 percent of attempted or completed rapes will actually be reported.
Rape is not an “ambiguous, drunken or regretted sexual encounter,” but rather a painful physical and emotional violation that most survivors have difficulty talking about. How hard would it be to immediately tell your friends that one of their good friends raped you, to tell a complete stranger in blue uniform about the unwanted penetration, to submit to a doctor’s pelvic examination within 72 hours of the actual rape? It is not easy for survivors to admit the experience to themselves, let alone bring the corroborating evidence to a university’s health services, a police officer or a friend.
This policy not only encourages survivors of rape to remain silent about their trauma, but also discriminates. According to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1972, all students, male or female, have the right to a “prompt and equitable” investigation of their complaints. Now at Harvard, sexual assault is a crime on campus where the accuser must show up with evidence in hand for an investigation to even be initiated. How is it equitable for some crimes to have higher burdens of proof than others? Since when are victims of crimes required to present evidence merely to report the event?
According to The Boston Globe, the assistant dean of Harvard College and secretary of the Administrative Board, David B. Fithian, declares that it is “fairer to students to decline a case up front than to subject them all to a more intrusive process that may take months –” Basically Harvard thinks it is more “emotionally painful to conduct an investigation than it is to keep silent about the experience of rape.
The Harvard Crimson article “Skirting Campus Rape” reports that many administrators involved in these cases feel uncomfortable with their lack of training or sensitivity. Rather than training the investigators, Harvard thinks the answer is to eliminate them. It would have been more prudent of Harvard to look to Yale as an example of how sexual harassment policy should be run. In addition to our Executive Committee (akin to Harvard’s Ad Board), we have the Sexual Assault Grievance Board, composed of members especially trained to deal with issues of assault and harassment. The board can take no action without explicit permission of the student complaining, thereby giving control to the victim. On the other hand, it has no punitive powers, so it cannot expel anyone from school. For an official investigation of an incident, all parties involved must be identified, and thus equally open to scrutiny. Although not a perfect system, it at least gives survivors an array of options from which to choose.
White’s general complaint was that “the ‘she said’ portion of the performance is regularly taken as absolute truth, destroying the lives of the conceivably innocent male victims.” Calling an accusation of rape a “performance” is completely offensive, and furthermore, this statement is simply wrong. In the past 30 years, only three cases of sexual assault brought before Harvard’s Advisory Committee resulted in disciplinary action, though clearly more than three rapes occurred during this time. Does this sound like a system that always believes the accuser? Look around the room, I guarantee you the majority of people you see know a rape victim. Why is no one supposed to talk about it? Why should the college administration want them to?
Rebecca Lynch is a senior in Silliman College.