Burden of Proof

In a year when the Faculty voted to require more evidence before the Ad Board would investigate sexual assault complaints, the University itself has been forced to prove its case.

Courtesy OF Casv

Members of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence protest the institution of the new Ad Board procedure on the steps of University Hall last May.

This article went to press before the May Faculty meetings, when the Leaning committee—the most recent group to investigate and review Harvard’s sexual assault policy—was slated to present its findings to the Faculty.

Jane says that two years ago she was raped by a fellow student.

Friends who saw her at a party with Dave on the night in question testified in her Administrative Board case that she was drunk before the alleged rape and upset afterwards.

But none of those friends were there in Dave’s room late that Saturday night. In the end, it was her word against his—and the Ad Board members, unable to make a judgement, ruled that no action should be taken against Dave.

Jane’s case cuts to the heart of the biggest weakness in Harvard’s procedure for handling allegations of sexual assault: its inability to render decisions where there is little evidence independent of the statements of the two parties involved.


In an attempt to make such investigations more efficient and more fair, College administrators proposed a major change to Harvard’s sexual assault policy last spring.

At a poorly attended Faculty meeting, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 pushed through a new measure requiring “independent corroborating evidence” before the Ad Board would launch a full investigation of any peer dispute.

The idea for the new provision came from the recommendations of a Faculty committee created in 2001 to evaluate the College’s procedures for handling sexual assault cases.

That committee highlighted the difficulty the Ad Board has had in coming to a resolution in “he said, she said” cases like Jane’s.

In the seven sexual assault cases that went before the Ad Board during 2000-2001—the academic year prior to the committee’s creation—the Ad Board found enough evidence to discipline an accused student in only one case.

Though the Faculty passively approved the change, fears that the Ad Board would ignore cases like Jane’s produced a wave of outrage in the student body and among some professors.

The Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) drew national media attention when it staged a protest on the steps of University Hall, and a student complained to the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that Harvard’s policy discriminates against women.

In response, Lewis formed another Faculty committee, headed by Professor of International Health Jennifer Leaning ’68, to scrutinize the resources available to victims of sexual assault on campus and the College’s sexual assault education program.

After a year of intense review of the College’s sexual assault policies, the Leaning Committee has come out with sweeping recommendations for change.

In a 73-page report released in April, the committee proposes the creation of a College office specifically aimed at preventing sexual assault on campus, an extensive preventive education program and changes to the Ad Board’s policy for such cases.