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Fighting for Awareness: Harvard Date Rape

Part two in a series on women at Harvard appearing periodically over the next month in The Crimson

By Alison L. Jernow

One out of every 10 college women is raped every year.

The majority of these women know their rapists by name, but, confused or upset, they do not report the incident to the police or tell other people about the incident.

At Harvard, as elsewhere, women are unsure when the boundary has been crossed. The transition from familiarity to harassment and date rape is not clearly defined, so a victim may be left with only a vague sense of unease, discomfort or abuse. A woman goes out on a date with a man she knows well or casually, and against her will they have sex. She did not say no loudly enough, or she yelled no, or she wasn't really asked, or she was too scared to say no. She was, as experts are beginning to say, "date raped."

She feels that she has been psychologically or physically taken advantage of, but she forces herself to suppress the feelings of guilt and anger associated with that victimization, experts say. She says to herself that she is being hysterical, that it was her fault, that she didn't say no forcefully enough.

Since many cases are never reported to authorities, Harvard experts agree that it is difficult to find out how many women have been victims of date rape.

A 1983 survey of 2000 undergraduates, half of whom were women, revealed that 3 percent of the undergraduate women polled said they had received unwanted pressure for sexual favors, and 10 percent said they had been subjected to unwanted pressure for dates. The statistics, however, did not indicate whether the pressure was from peers or others, nor did the study ask about date rape. The study, conducted by two undergraduates through the office of the dean for undergraduate education, provided the first clues of the extent of peer harassment, particularly among undergraduates.

National studies indicate that more than 50 percent of rapes are date rapes and that one in eight women will be raped in their four years of college.

Responding

In spring 1983, a peer counseling group named Response was formed to provide support for victims of molestation. "We filled a great need because there was a significant amount of rape and harassment on this campus, and there wasn't an organization specifically trained to deal with it," says co-director Judy A. Zachariasen '86.

Response has both drop-in counseling hours on the weekend and a confidential hotline. Nadja Gould, a clinical social worker at University Mental Health Services and supervisor of all peer counseling groups at Harvard, says, "Response has been invaluable in labeling date rape as such and helping women to recognize and give validity to their experience."

In addition to Response, Room 13 provides general advice; Contact offers counseling on sexual orientation; and Peer Contraceptives Counseling answers questions about contraception and pregnancy.

Two or three of Response's 17 hotline counselors field from one to two phone calls a night, and the counselors are often themselves survivors of rape or sexual harassment. One became involved after her roommate was date-raped freshman year. Another said her interest was prompted by a section leader who continually invited her on weekend trips. Both agreed that the majority of calls concerned rapes, and that the majority of rapists were other Harvard students.

"Unfortunately, most of the time it's not worth prosecuting because the incident happened too long ago, and there's just no proof," says counselor Lisa I. Backus '86. "If it's date rape or there's any hint that alcohol or drugs have been involved, forget about the Ad Board."

One student counselor says the Administrative Board, which handles student discipline cases, is "notorious for inaction," and Ellen Porter Honnet, assistant dean of the College for coeducation and a sexual harassment hearing officer, says she agrees. She says that a new ad hoc committee has been formed within the Ad Board to hear special cases that relate to issues of peer harassment. The problem, she says, is that "two students with different interpretations of the same series of events make it very difficult to determine blame, even though one's sympathies lie with the victim."

Zachariasen notes that while the actual number of incidents has probably not increased, "in the past decade there's been greater awareness and recognition of the problem. The reason [Response is] getting more calls is because we're becoming better known and people feel more comfortable talking about it. Harassment is finally being acknowledged in the community as real."

Increasing Awareness

Attempts to heighten awareness about the statistics have begun recently. Some groups have peppered the campus with posters containing statistics on rape. Honnet is the coordinator of a recently formed committee, the Working Group on Peer Sexual Harassment, that is also trying to increase education on the problem.

One program aiming at increased knowledge is a seminar series held by Response for proctor units. The workshops are voluntary, and proctors must request them. This fall only 10 proctors asked for the workshops for their entryway, says Bronwen C. Evans '87. Two Response counselors tried to implement mandatory counseling, but, when University officials turned down the request, they began circulating a petition last week to require date rape workshops for incoming freshmen.

"There is no good way to handle it once it's happened. We must think, instead, of how to prevent it," Honnet says.

But preventing date rape in many cases means changing attitudes that are ingrained or difficult to pinpoint. "The attitude of the guys in my dorm really shocked me," says Response counselor Debbie B. Lanzberg '88. "I had never before heard guys, nice enough guys and pretty average here, talking about women in such a derogatory way."

At a recent house party, several Response counselors and their friends walked in to find that the men in the suite had hung Response posters on the walls with remarks such as "she asked for it," written on them, says one counselor.

The implied, and sometimes stated, message of such attitudes is that "no" often means "yes." Andrea Parrot, professor of human service studies at Cornell and author of the leading manual on the subject, says that too many people are not aware that "any sexual intercourse without mutual desire is rape."

Counselors at Response suggest that at coed schools such as Harvard, more relationship problems lead to a higher incidence of date and acquaintance rape. Honnet, however, says that a coed school might "have an advantage in that men and women living together as friends have greater potential for understanding and communication."

Honnet says she feels that at Harvard it is especially hard for students to admit uncertainty. "Harvard students are human. They don't want to appear uncertain or naive," she says.

"The Working Group is trying to present the issue [of sexual harassment] without men feeling victimized and women embattled. We are teaching men to be more sensitive and women more assertive," says Honnet. "But no one likes to be told that they don't know what they're doing, that they don't know how to date."

"If women learn how to say no and men learn how to understand that no means no, then people could be a lot happier and there would be a lot less pain and anguish," says Honnet.

Rape is not the only form of violation. There are other, more subtle forms of attack. Sexual harassment is a common occurrence on college campuses. Counselors give several examples: What about the teaching fellow who insisted on giving you extra help? He scheduled a review section, neglected to inform his other students, and as a result you were the only one who came. You told your roommate about it, no one else. Or the woman down the hall who was assaulted in front of her entryway by a couple of drunk guys? The proctor, disturbed by the noise, came outside and scared them off. She did not report the incident.

Intimidation is not always as overt as it is in the case of rape or molestation. "In science departments, what's prevalent is very much an understood sexism. The professsor assumes that the man in the class is going to be naturally adept. The woman is not considered as an equal," says Backus.

Any action that puts a person in a vulnerable position is an abuse of power, but Honnet makes a clear distinction between peer harassment and inappropriate behavior on the part of graduate students. The latter, she says, often "don't realize how powerful they are in the eyes of the student."

Teaching fellows are most frequently implicated in cases of harassment, especially with undergraduates, says Backus. Because the age gap is not that great, the line is blurred in terms of appropriate and inappropriate behavior, she says.

While most experts agree that harassment can be directed at both men and women, all of the complaints received in the past few years by the sexual harassment hearing officer have been made by women. "Maybe it's because we don't have enough women faculty," says Honnet. "Once we have more numbers, men, too, will have equal opportunity for harassment." Male faculty members far outnumber female faculty members with only about 25 tenured women versus about 350 tenured men in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Thirty inquiries about sexual harassment, resulting in informal resolutions and two formal complaints, were filed last year by undergraduates, graduate students and faculty, says Honnet.

The 1983 survey on sexual harassment revealed that 34 percent of the undergraduate women experienced some form of sexual harassment, loosely defined as anything from lewd jokes and suggestive comments, to unwanted touching, to rape. The report also found that the likelihood that a woman will be harassed increases the longer she is at Harvard.

In spring 1984, the University revised its procedures for handling sexual harassment complaints, making the rules clearer though not substantially changing them. Since the revisions were made, reporting to College sexual harassment officers has not increased, prompting some to express concern that not enough people have been made aware of the problem or the channels for filing complaints. Indeed, Honnet thinks that some of the need for informal counseling has been met through unofficial channels such as peer groups. A recent study in the Boston area showed that rape or harassment victims are more likely to call counseling services than the police.

As with date rape, counselors want more education and awareness. Honnet says she would like her office to concentrate on a program for educating graduate students. Prevention through education is the principle goal.

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