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The Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) was enraged two weeks ago when the Faculty voted to change the Administrative Board policy about peer disputes to one that requires more evidence than competing student testimonies before proceeding with the investigation.
Why CASV is surprised, I’m not sure; Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 strongly hinted at the necessity of the change in his January report on the status of the College. And what’s more, the Ad Board has always adhered to this standard; it was just invoked at a different time in the investigation of a peer dispute. Under the old system, a formal complaint would be filed, written statements from both parties taken, an investigation conducted, and if the evidence came down to one student’s word against another’s, without any other evidence, the Ad Board would likely call the case a scratch. This new policy requires that the Ad Board think about the probability of obtaining corroborating evidence before proceeding past the initial written statements.
CASV reacted to the Faculty’s vote with a typical knee-jerk response: their outraged members fumed to reporters from The Crimson, decrying the lack of sensitivity Harvard administrators have for sexual assault; they organized a rally and found several faculty members out of hundreds to lend legitimacy to their cause.
This new policy does not indicate that Harvard doesn’t care about assault. Rather, with this change, the Faculty has (effectively) declared that, “We care so much about all kinds of assault and take it so seriously that we do not want an unqualified group of cranky deans and transient senior tutors muddling through this. When it comes to the less clear- cut cases that don’t immediately have corroborating evidence, we want students to take full advantage of the evidence gathering abilities and subpoena power of the Harvard University and Cambridge Police Departments and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Now the Faculty didn’t come out and say this, and the College left plenty of time for CASV members to imagine the worst before they came out with their belated spin on the change. Students have been left to slog through the two opposing question-and-answer press releases that both sides have circulated, while listening to the near-hysterical CASV members who have been canvassing the dining halls.
Amidst all this hoopla, those who care about reducing incidents of assault on this campus and getting justice for those who are attacked should be rejoicing. Gone are the days when the collection of sweet but slightly dazed, tweed-clad academics played cop with the most difficult assault cases.
Under this new policy, a student may file a formal complaint that he or she was assaulted. The Ad Board will gather written statements from both parties, and decide if there will be enough evidence beyond the written testimony to proceed. If not, the victim can pursue the case through the police department—with its different investigative powers, such as the collection of scientific evidence. If the accused is convicted, the Ad Board will then likely dismiss the student.
What this policy change does is put the burden of investigating the most difficult crimes exactly where it should be: in the hands of trained professionals.
It is in no one’s interest for the Ad Board to be deciding, or struggling to decide, a case where the only evidence they can get their hands on is one student’s word against another’s. If CASV wants the Ad Board to be hearing cases without more evidence than “he-said-she -said” claims, then they should realize the verdicts aren’t necesarily going to be sympathetic to the victim.
For example, last year under the old system, seven cases of sexual assault were brought before the Ad Board, four went unresolved because of a lack of evidence. Sure, the Ad Board heard these cases, but what kind of justice does a scratch case provide for the victim?
This new policy makes it clear that if a student is assaulted, he or she should think of the police first and the Ad Board last, and go right to the police to begin the evidence-gathering process and pursuing the case in court.
And this is where CASV could supply some well-placed advocacy. The group should capitalize on its visibility to spread the word among students that if they are assaulted, it is in their best interest to get in touch with the police immediately. The group should be calling for the kind of institutional support for students that will make this new policy effective, including readily available University transportation to the Boston hospitals that do rape kits.
CASV should be yelling for an increase in the services that help victims pursue their cases in court, not whining that Harvard doesn’t care about rape. The University has in fact passed a change in policy that helps students more readily get the justice they deserve.
Joyce K. McIntyre ’02 is a history and literature concentrator in Kirkland House. This is her final column.
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