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Central Office Has Heard Record Number of Assault Cases

Harvard has heard a record number of sexual assault cases—between 25 and 30—since it opened a new centralized Title IX office to handle the issue last fall, according to University Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides.

Since it opened with the implementation of Harvard’s new University-wide sexual harassment policy last fall, the Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution has heard cases from 11 of Harvard’s schools or divisions, Karvonides said in an interview on Friday. Those cases have involved faculty, staff, and students, and a third involved allegations of nonconsensual sexual penetration.

Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides
University Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides listens to a presentation following the release of results of the sexual conduct climate survey last month.

The 25 to 30 figure at least doubles an already spiked caseload Karvonides said ODR had heard in its first semester alone last fall, which she said surpassed the total annual caseload across the University in previous years.

ODR investigates and determines guilt in all sexual harassment and assault cases filed against students and staff, and most against faculty, across Harvard before handing verdicts off to school disciplinary bodies, except at Harvard Law School. At the urgings of professors there, a separate body investigates cases involving only Law students.

Of the 25 to 30 cases ODR has heard since fall 2014, between 10 and 15 are still open, said Karvonides, who oversees the body; more than half of the open cases were filed in the last two months.

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Of cases the investigatory body has resolved, Karvonides said the office has found an “even mix” of sexual harassment policy violations and non-violations. It has also reached informal resolutions in some cases. One ninth of the resolved cases were administratively closed, meaning that the complaint did not lead to a full formal investigation.

Complainant and respondent demographics were not uniform, Karvonides added. Just more than half of the cases that ODR heard last school year involved a female complainant and a male respondent; the rest involved a combination of varying gender identities.

Previously, administrators had not released such detailed information about ODR and its early caseload. Karvonides, though, offered more information about Harvard’s most recent sexual assault case statistics just weeks after Harvard released the results of its University-wide sexual conduct climate survey.

The survey, which administrators described as “deeply troubling,” revealed that 31 percent of senior female respondents at the College reported being victims of some kind of sexual misconduct during their time at Harvard. Among senior undergraduate males, a subgroup that includes Extension School students, 8.4 percent reported having experienced some kind of sexual misconduct in that time. Undergraduates who identified in the survey as LGBAQN—lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, questioning, or not listed—reported experiencing sexual assault at higher rates.

The survey also found that many students—including undergraduates—were unaware of and placed little trust in the University’s sexual assault policy, its procedures for handling cases, and existing reporting bodies.

More than 70 percent of Harvard students surveyed reported that they were not at all or only a little bit knowledgeable about what happens when a student reports an incident of sexual assault or misconduct, and only 20 percent were very or extremely knowledgeable about where to make a report. Rates of reported sexual assaults were also low, with 69 percent of respondents who experienced penetration by force indicating that they did not file a formal report.

Responding to the survey, Karvonides said the prevalence data “was of most concern” and that her office will push to increase University-wide knowledge and trust surrounding the issue.

“It identifies an area where we have so much more work to do. Without question, that is my takeaway,” Karvonides said. “The issue is that we need to build more trust.”

To that end, Harvard released a 10-page “Frequently Asked Questions” document clarifying its sexual harassment policy and the procedures governing case investigations on Monday.

Among other points, the document further clarifies how the University policy protects certain types of speech, seemingly addressing the concerns of Harvard Law School professors who this year questioned the policy’s impact on academic freedom.

The clarifying document released Monday maintains that speech that is “germane to coursework is not prohibited” by Harvard’s harassment policy, and that “where academically relevant, a professor or student may discuss sexually provocative or offensive material in class,” although “speech that does not have a legitimate educational purpose could fall within the Policy.”

The document also addresses when an individual under the influence of alcohol or other drugs can consent to sexual activity (a person who is intoxicated, but not incapacitated, can consent under Harvard’s policy).

According to Karvonides, administrators released the FAQ document after the federal government found the Law School in violation of Title IX last year and suggested that Harvard clarify its Title IX policy and procedures. Karvonides said University officials were until recently awaiting federal feedback on the clarifying document, but decided to release it after seeing the results of the campus climate survey.

Administrators are also preparing a separate, more comprehensive document to detail the legal definitions and regulations surrounding Title IX and sexual assault and harassment more broadly that govern Harvard. They also created a brochure last semester to outline the key points of Harvard’s policy and plan to optimize it for mobile use, Karvonides said.

Beyond investigators at ODR, Harvard offers sexual assault response resources through its Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, Harvard University Health Services, and the Harvard University Police Department.

The College has two Title IX coordinators and offers support through various offices and specialty tutors in the Houses and proctors in the Yard. Groups of students—including Contact, Room 13, Response, and the Student Health and Relationship Counselors, or SHARC—also conduct peer relationship counseling services.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at noah.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

—Staff writer Mariel A. Klein can be reached at mariel.klein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter@mariel_klein.

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