To the editor:
“Let’s Talk About Sexual Assault,” The Crimson’s recent editorial, while commendable for its desire to make Harvard a more welcoming place for victims and a safer one for all students, misrepresented the current structures in place to support victims of assault, and neglected to mention others.
First, the editorial alleged that students do not receive enough information regarding the process of reporting and prosecuting a case of sexual assault. It should be noted that campuses nationwide rely on Sex Signals to introduce students to the unfortunate reality of sexual assault in the collegiate environment. For many of these schools, Sex Signals is a “be-all end-all” approach to informing the campus about these issues.
At Harvard, however, it does not stand alone. As an institution, we are relatively unique in requiring students to discuss the issues raised by the performance in a one-hour seminar. The trained students who lead these sessions inform students of the resources available along with disseminating their contact information. Should students forget these seminars entirely, purple stickers on the bathroom doors of nearly every toilet on campus also contain the phone numbers of many groups that offer help to assault victims.
The Crimson’s editorial also argued that the people providing support are poorly trained and coordinated. This is untrue. All of these groups continue to work together along with University Health Services, Mental Health Services, the Bureau of Study Council, residential life staff, student leaders, and other peer counseling groups to provide a supportive network for victims of sexual assault, however they wish to proceed. Members of the OSAPR Alliance and Response undergo thorough training programs and the staff at OSAPR is comprised of certified professionals. In fact, Harvard’s network for prevention and support is largely without peer in this country.
Of course, and of course unfortunately, sexual assault at Harvard still goes unreported—but the Crimson cannot blame Harvard for this. Sexual assualt is one of the most underreported crimes in the world. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, under 39 percent of all domestic assaults were reported to law enforcement officers.
Fear of social stigma; anxiety that the perpetrator will be found innocent; the need to understand emotional trauma privately before bringing into the public realm; and uncertainty over whether an incident can even be called “rape,” are all reasons for this discouragingly low statistic. And all of these reasons are discussed in the one-hour freshman seminars. We wish that such reasons, like social stigma, didn’t exist, but how a victim handles sexual assault is ultimately his or her choice. In many cases, the victim will choose counseling over persecution, and so that is what Harvard’s resources will provide.
Lastly, the Crimson misunderstood Harvard’s definition of sexual assault. It does, in fact, exclude consent given under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and is not just limited to vocalized “negative unwillingness. The full definition can be found on the OSAPR website.
Sexual assault is a difficult and painful reality. We agree that whatever path the victim chooses to take, be it prosecution or counseling, the process should be transparent and the resources easily accessible. We also agree that students should be fully aware of the available resources, so that they can make informed decisions. But we hope that future discussion of such a weighty topic will show a greater accuracy and understanding.
Elizabeth Paisner ’12
Emma Wood ’12
The writers write on behalf of Response Peer Counseling, the Student Alliance, and OSAPR.
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