Crack Down on Rape

Harvard and Cambridge Police are missing their target

There has been a noticeable decrease in the number of parties on and off campus during the past two weekends thanks to a recent increase in activity by the Cambridge Police Department. Numerous parties  to be held at off-campus locations including the final clubs, the Hasty Pudding Club, the Advocate and The Crimson itself were canceled amid warnings that the CPD would shut them down. The weekends have been distinctly quieter as stories fly around campus about students being Breathalyzed on the streets and policemen waiting outside the doors of final clubs to catch inebriated students on the way out of a party. The crackdown aims, it appears, to shut down off-campus parties in order to tackle underage drinking, and to prevent students from visiting University Health Services for alcohol-related reasons. Authorities, however, are trying to solve the wrong problem and are missing the bigger picture. The far more important issue to address in Harvard’s off-campus social scene is female health and the need to protect and safeguard women from sexual assault. The Harvard University Police Department, the CPD, and—most importantly—the wider Harvard community should focus their energies more on preventing rape and harassment than on a fruitless attempt to head off underage drinking.

The recent reporting of two rapes on or near Harvard’s campus this summer shocked our community, especially since one of these actually occurred in Harvard Yard itself. According to one source, Harvard students are victims of 15 rapes per year on average. Think this is too high? So do we, particularly on a campus that many of us deem generally safe. Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds’ announcement that Harvard would increase security guards on duty as well as HUPD patrol in response to the two most recent rapes is welcome. Female health, however, seems hardly the principal focus of the visible display of increased law enforcement on campus these past two weekends. What’s more, underage drinking and the increased risk of rape should not be conflated; one does not naturally lead to the other. Law enforcement also does not alone lead to a safer environment for women on campus, even if police were to devote themselves to this problem. The fact remains that the vast majority of rapes on undergraduate campuses are not stranger rapes like those that dominated headlines at the beginning of this semester. An issue like the chronic under-reporting of rape by victims is as pressing as the need for better security in the Yard at night.

The police crackdown has done a lot to stifle Harvard’s nightlife over the past two weeks. Hopefully, the increasing intrusion of law enforcement in the lives of undergraduates will not continue in the long term. Life at Harvard is stressful as it is, and the last thing students need is to be Breathalyzed when just trying to relax on a Saturday evening. Traditionally, undergraduate and under-21 socializing at Harvard has taken place on campus or in off-campus private locations. While in many ways not enviable, this system has at least disincentivized many undergraduates from purchasing fake IDs, a chronic problem at many other colleges. This latest effort to stifle underage drinking will only limit the few recreational options that students under the age of 21 can attend on campus. Dining hall parties, while a positive force on campus, are not everyone’s first choice. Busting parties will likely only increase the relatively subdued presence of false identification on campus and push students into ever more dubious and perhaps rapid choices of how to get drunk. One thing is for sure, and that is underage students at Harvard, like their peers across the United States, will carry on drinking whether the police or the administration like it or not.