Support, Healing for Sexual Assault Victims

To the editors:

I am disappointed with the way that the Crimson has represented my thoughts on the issue of Harvard’s sexual assault policy (News, “Lewis Requests Changes in Sex Assault Policy,” Feb. 11).

The point I had hoped to get across in my comments regarding the proposed changes to the Administrative Board policy on sexual assault is that, as it stands, the Ad Board is often a highly misleading option for survivors who wish to press charges against their assailants within the confines of the University. The Ad Board process seems, at first glance, to be a shorter and less painful option, avoiding the stigma of going to the police or the intensive, intimidating and difficult process of navigating the court system. Yet, in reality, students who go to the Ad Board often find that their case drags on much longer than originally expected. They have little or no support from the University throughout the proceeding and the lack of training members of the Administrative Board have received surrounding issues of sexual assault makes the experience just as excruciating and emotionally wearying as a criminal court proceeding, if not more so.

Because of this, I am heartened by the administration’s recognition of its own shortcomings in this area. Yet, I am also concerned that removing the possibility of making a complaint through the Ad Board will leave survivors with fewer options and thus make students feel they have no choice but to remain silent.

Thus, it seems to me that changing the Ad Board process is only one of the reforms necessary to improve Harvard’s sexual assault policy. Rather than simply removing one of a survivor’s options, Harvard needs to redouble its efforts to make sure its policies and resources do as much as possible to support the survivor on his or her own path to recovery and healing. As one of the top universities in the country, Harvard has a responsibility to lead by example and create model sexual assault policy, education, and resources that can be replicated in schools across the nation. Such reforms would include not only a 24-hour on-call counselor trained in issues of sexual assault, but also an impartial advocate, familiar with both the Harvard system and the legal system who could act as an advisor and help the survivor reach a decision about what sort of action would be most appropriate, if any.

Making sure that the system in place to support survivors of sexual assault is of top quality, easily accessible and avoids the problem of students falling through the University’s bureaucratic cracks is by far the most important change Harvard can make to its sexual assault policy.

Sarah B. Levit-Shore ’04

Feb. 12, 2002

The writer is a member of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence.

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