College's Actions Justified In Reporting Elster's Arrest


To the editors:

In light of several stories arising from the recent arrest of a Harvard student on counts of rape and assault and battery, we would like to make these observations.

First, as to the question of whether there was an attempt to conceal this incident, we join others in confirming that this was no one's intention.

After the arrest of Joshua M. Elster '00 on Jan. 31, it was assumed by everyone concerned that the arrest was on the public record, or would be very soon. A press release, stating the charges and giving directory information about Mr. Elster, was available on request from the News Office Saturday night. An arraignment in public court was scheduled for Monday morning. The omission of the incident from the police blotter was due to a clerical error.

We did consider providing the press release to the Crimson before it was requested. In not doing so we adhered to the principle that the College, while being as open as it can legally be in response to inquiries, should not go on the offensive against its own students in the court of public opinion. A different issue would have been presented had the safety of the community been at stake, but with Mr. Elster under arrest there was no question of public safety. (We had also done our best, before charges had been pressed, to ascertain that Mr. Elster was not a community danger--though our freedom of legal operation during that interval would have been very limited.)

We do, in retrospect, regret not having called the Crimson, since we could at the same time have explained that the woman affected and her roommates did not wish to speak to the press. As it turned out, a Crimson reporter did call the woman, and this call was extremely upsetting to her and to her roommates; for this particular reason we are sorry we did not try to be helpful by contacting the Crimson first.

The Crimson's coverage of this incident has led to a number of ancillary stories, which have been helpful in raising awareness of issues surrounding sexual misconduct. However, with respect to the connection being made between this incident and a discussion of "date rape," we would note that the charges against Mr. Elster include two counts of assault and battery as well as three counts of rape, and that the only person, as far as we know, who has publicly suggested an amorous relationship gone bad between Mr. Elster and the alleged victim is Mr. Elster's attorney.

Finally, we would take this opportunity to remind students of the many expert resources available to them, including the University Health Services, the Bureau of Study Counsel, the Harvard University Police Department, the Assistant Dean for Coeducation (Karen Avery), the peer groups Response and Peer Relations Date Rape Education, and the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC, located in Cambridge not far from Harvard and open 24 hours a day). The Senior Tutors and Assistant Deans of Freshmen are also available to discuss any concerns on a confidential basis. The College continues to review its education and outreach programs, as it has been doing for several years. HARRY R. LEWIS '68, Dean of the College   KAREN E. AVERY '87, Assistant Dean of the College   Feb. 16, 1998

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