The entire Harvard community was rightly shocked and appalled at the two sexual assaults which were perpetrated on or near Harvard Yard this August. The events marked the first incidences of stranger rape on the Harvard campus in more than a decade, sparking fear and concern among students, faculty, and local residents alike. Yet, the wide reporting of these crimes also call to light an unfortunate truth: that we are only aware of them because they were reported to the Cambridge and Somerville police, respectively, rather than HUPD or the Office of Sexual Assault Response and Prevention, which do not release information on sexual assaults.
Our administration is woefully tight-lipped when it comes to providing the community with critical information on sexual assaults, especially location. While we acknowledge the concerns that motivate the withholding of such data—especially those related to protecting the victim’s anonymity—we believe that the safety of the community demands that more information on campus sexual assaults be released. The decision not to release such information indirectly contributes to the malignant and widespread ignorance of acquaintance rape on campus.
While the incidents of August 10th and 14th mark the first stranger rapes in the past decade at Harvard, HUPD reports that it receives an average of four reports of acquaintance rape per year, a figure that does not include those that are reported exclusively to services such as OSAPR. Acquaintance rape is notably more common, accounting for 90 percent of sexual assaults perpetrated against college students, according to one Department of Justice study. Yet the administration does not release even the most basic information on these incidents.
Furthermore, the language of the official administration communication, which treat these two events as entirely unique in their category and an unexpected departure from Harvard’s otherwise serene hustle-and-bustle, reinforce the erroneous and common—if subtly held—perception that stranger rapes are more worthy of shock, disgust, and outrage than assaults where the assailant is known to the victim. We ought to remember that while the events of August are deplorable and tragic, members of our community suffer from such crimes much more often than recent headlines would suggest.
Harvard’s insistence on withholding basic information on sexual assaults distorts the public’s perception and reinforces the false notion that rape is a twice-in-a-decade occurrence here. Furthermore, it is very possible that this practice discourages victims of acquaintance rape from coming forward because they have the impression that the crime perpetrated against them is not considered as serious as the stranger rapes which are more frequently reported to outside police departments. For the sake of our security, the administration ought to release information on campus sexual assault.
The September 5, 2012 editorial “Release the Statistics” incorrectly stated that neither the Harvard University Police Department nor the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response do not release statistics on sexual assaults. This information is available online on HUPD’s website, in accordance with the federal Clery Act. Also, the August 10, 2012 rape in Harvard Yard was reported to the Harvard University Police Department, not the Cambridge Police Department as was stated.