The Untold Story of Sexual Assault at Harvard
“I want to know what happened in that room when they were making a decision that changed my entire life.”
Julie, an undergraduate, says she will never understand why the Administrative Board decided in its closed deliberations in the Forum Room on the third floor of Lamont Library to allow the student who sexually assaulted her to remain on campus.
Julie, who has been granted anonymity by The Crimson because she fears retaliation from her perpetrator, initially felt optimistic about the College’s response to her sexual assault. After reporting the rape, Julie felt encouraged by the responses of Harvard University Police Department and the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. Assured that there was significant evidence to build a case against the perpetrator, Julie took her case to the Ad Board.
In light of this, she said, the Ad Board’s ultimate decision not to require the perpetrator to withdraw was particularly disheartening.
Paola, another College student who was sexually assaulted on campus, also found OSAPR to be a helpful resource. Yet she expresses deep disappointment with the way that administrators respond to students coming forward with experiences of sexual assault. “They question the event so much and ask if you were in the wrong so many times that, after a while, one begins questioning if it even happened,” she writes in an email to The Crimson. Paola, who has been granted anonymity by The Crimson to protect her privacy, decided not to pursue her case with the Ad Board in part because she knew the perpetrator.
For a growing number of students on campus, stories like Julie’s and Paola’s highlight what they describe as a disparity between Harvard’s many resources for the victims of sexual assault and the policies that govern the ways in which incidents of sexual assault are investigated and adjudicated. These critics, who include sexual assault survivors and campus activists, say that the Ad Board’s written policy language is not favorable to victims of sexual assault, and that the Ad Board’s lack of transparency about its processes intimidates students who bring their cases before the Board.
Harvard is currently conducting an ongoing review of its sexual assault policies across its various schools and has recently hired its first ever University-wide Title IX coordinator, who begins work this month. Still, some students feel that these efforts are not enough. They say that changes in the way administrators handle cases of sexual assault at the College level are progressing too slowly, and are not sufficiently responsive to student concerns.
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