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Cases Difficult


By Joshua A. Gerstein

IT IS disturbing that only a tiny fraction of the total number of acquaintance rapes that occur on the Harvard campus are reported to the Ad Board. But while Deans Jewett and Wolcowitz may not be sufficiently sympathetic to students confronted by unwanted sexual advances, the policies and standards of the Ad Board pose a far larger hurdle for victims to overcome. Under the College's present disciplinary system, a finding that a date rape took place will always be a rare occurence.

The Ad Board is, to some extent, a medieval star chamber. The senior adviser who is supposed to act as an advocate for the accused student ends up voting on the outcome of the case. Students are judged not by their peers, but by a panel of administrators and tutors.

Oddly enough, it is the board's comparatively modern practice of placing the burden of proof on the accuser that presents the greatest problem for victims of acquaintance rape.

Like other crimes committed by students, most cases of date rape commit happen while one or both of the people involved are under the influence of alcohol. This clouds both judgement and memories. When recollections are clear, they are often in conflict. And rarely are there any witnesses to corroborate either side.

Some would argue that the accuser's testimony should be given more weight because of the stigma and emotional trauma of pursuing any case of rape. However, some people have already used fabricated sexual assault charges to destroy reputations. This practice is undoubtedly quite rare, though it is likely to grow as the unjustified stigma of being a rape victim subsides.

So the Ad Board is often left with different stories from two people who were drunk at the time of the crucial events, no physical evidence and no independent witnesses. On the basis of such a record, it is difficult to see how any impartial board that gives the accused the benefit of the doubt could find a student responsible for an acquaintance rape. The presumption of innocence has a very real cost, and perhaps in the case of date and acquaintance rape, it is one the Harvard community is not willing to bear.

At any rate, University administrators should put a stop to their charade of telling incoming students that the disciplinary system can handle the problem. It cannot.

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