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Rohypnol Warning Spreads Unevenly

By David B. Rochelson, Crimson Staff Writer

Despite an effort by the new Office for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response last Monday to alert students to a rash of Rohypnol poisonings, the e-mail warning only trickled out to students through a variety of House lists and did not reach one House at all.

Office director Susan B. Marine sent the e-mail, which said two students were confirmed to have been treated for consuming the “date-rape drug” at off-campus parties, to Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (SASH) tutors in every House, asking them to forward the warning to students.

Residents in at least half the Houses received the warning the day Marine sent it out.

But SASH tutors in Dunster, Lowell and Quincy Houses did not forward Marine’s e-mail to House lists until days and even over one week later—and Currier House residents never received it.

Marine said she asked the SASH tutors to forward the message to House residents, but that they were under no obligation to send out the e-mail. She said she does not consider it the main responsibility of the Office or of the SASH tutors to send out campus safety alerts.

“Their main duty is to be trained to support students who need assistance after being sexually assaulted,” Marine said. “They do not have any particular responsibility to be any particular mouthpiece for any particular message.”

She stressed that the Office—which was established to coordinate sexual assault prevention education and services on campus—is not in charge of coordinating the SASH tutors and that the House tutors’ extra title is indicative of a “volunteer position,” not a “job.”

“I’m not their boss,” she said. “There’s no way I can say to people you have to do something. I have to hope that people will do what I ask.”

Marine said she also sent the warning e-mail to all senior tutors, whom she said are “just as able as SASH advisors to put out information about this.”

Dunster House SASH tutor Ramona Uritescu-Lombard sent the e-mail warning to Dunster residents just last night, after telling The Crimson on Monday that she had not sent it and declining to comment further.

Both Lowell and Quincy House residents received the warning as part of House digests. Lowell disseminated it through the Lowell House News Letter this Monday and Quincy’s newsletter Q-Tips published it on Friday.

Lowell SASH tutor Debra A. Sorenson wrote in an e-mail that she submitted the warning last week to run in Lowell’s newsletter, which is published on Mondays, but must have “missed the previous submission deadline by a day or two.”

A student in Winthrop House forwarded the e-mail to Throptalk shortly after Marine sent it.

The College established the Office, headed by Marine, last spring after a year and a half of agitation by the Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Violence (CASV) for greater centralization of resources for sexual assault victims and a more comprehensive sexual assault prevention education program.

The primary responsibility of SASH tutors is to counsel and support victims of sexual assault and harassment, as well as to help organize Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) classes.

CASV member Alisha C. Johnson ’04 said she did not expect the Office to send out “all points bulletins.”

Johnson said that in the past there have been complaints that the quality of SASH tutors varies from House to House—and that the new Office is looking into the issue.

“There were many issues that people had with SASH tutors before. Some Houses had better SASH tutors than others, in terms of being available, approachable and knowledgeable about the issue. I think the Office is doing a lot to address that,” she said.

She added that the Office is still new and the University’s handling of sexual assault-related issues has already improved since its creation.

“This is a relatively new thing, this office that’s in charge of everything,” Johnson said. “I think we need to consider it in context and what the situation was last year before we had the Office.”

Marine said she will seek input on establishing a mechanism to better ensure that all students receive advisories such as last week’s e-mail. She said students have told her that e-mail is more effective than, for example, putting up fliers.

But Marine added that there is no foolproof method of alerting students to campus-wide problems.

“No system for notifying people is perfect,” she said. “I can’t think of anything we could do that would guarantee that every individual gets the information.”

Cabot House SASH tutor Therese Leung wrote in an e-mail that this was the first message Marine sent out “regarding something that should be distributed House-wide.”

Quincy House SASH tutor Renee Ann Richardson wrote in an e-mail that SASH tutors can disseminate information in a variety of ways, such as through other tutors, e-mail or informal conversations.

“The majority of SASH work is done behind the scenes (e.g., training) and on a personal basis (specific cases and informal conversations),” Richardson wrote. “This is how we make the greatest impact.”

Richardson wrote that the SASH tutors are in regular contact with Marine about training and meetings.

This is not the first time the University has had problems with sending warnings to undergraduates. Following two stabbings last February, a miscommunication between local police and the Harvard University Police Department delayed an advisory from reaching Harvard students until six days after the incident.

—Staff writer David B. Rochelson can be reached at rochels@fas.harvard.edu.

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