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Assault Prevention Timeline Omits History

Letters to the Editors

By Sarah B. Levit-shore

To the editors:

Thank you for Nalina Sombuntham’s article on the new Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (OSAPR) (News, “New Office Combats Assault,” Oct. 20). With Susan B. Marine at the helm of an impressive staff, we’ve already seen major improvements to the sexual assault preventative education curriculum and the resources available for survivors, and I can’t wait to see what else is in the works.

I have to say, though, I was rather surprised to read in the sidebar accompanying the article that, according to The Crimson, OSAPR came about as a result of one short year of student activism.

Gosh, what a fantastic example of a university responding promptly and decisively to student needs! If only. Students formed the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) in 1998 in response to the University’s poor handling of two separate instances of rape perpetrated by members of the Harvard student body. Angry and concerned, over 300 members of the Harvard community rallied outside University Hall to demand that the University expel the guilty students, provide preventative education on sexual violence and improve its survivor resources and Administrative Board procedures. That was five years ago.

In May 2002, the change to the Ad Board policy requiring “independent corroborating evidence” to bring a sexual assault charge forward unleashed yet another storm of community outrage and CASV rallied once again outside University Hall. Only then, with the specter of negative publicity looming large, was Harvard willing to set up a committee to look into the issue.

It is short-sighted and misleading to imply that the OSAPR came from only one year’s labor. Even before 1998, students, faculty and community members committed endless hours to build the foundations for the progress we’ve made. The Crimson’s timeline obscures the hard work and dedication of all those who pushed for changes to Harvard’s policies before May 2002, and makes invisible the amazing amount of bureaucratic red tape and institutional obstacles they encountered.

I was lucky enough to work on the Committee to Address Sexual Assault at Harvard (CASAH) with faculty, administrators and other members of the Harvard community who truly did care about rape and sexual assault on this campus, and were ready to recommend real improvements to Harvard’s system. (And even then, CASAH itself was limited in what it could accomplish because a review of the Ad Board was explicitly left out of its mandate). Still, CASAH’s very existence was a big step forward for the University. Institutional change doesn’t come easily, and it certainly does not come quickly or without a fight. In describing the “foundations” of the OSAPR, let’s start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start.


Oct. 21, 2003

The writer is a member of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence.

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