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Letter to the Editor

To the editor:

As my 10-year reunion approaches, I am gratified that there finally seems to be a community-wide reckoning of sexual assault on campus ("Survey Reveals ‘Troubling’ Sexual Assault Climate at Harvard, Faust Says"). With results of a campus-wide survey showing that one in three female Harvard seniors has experienced sexual assault during her time on campus, we can no longer ignore that Harvard’s culture allows rape to happen and ignores it when it does. What was left unsaid in the survey, however, deserves as much attention as these disturbing numbers.

Where do these assaults occur? There is a vague reference to “recognized and unrecognized student organizations.” One cannot help but assume that these unsanctioned places are final clubs, which, official or not, dominate student life on campus. Because of Harvard’s strategy of disengagement, however, they have become a free-for-all, where sexual assault is understood as the potential price of admission. Even more disturbing, as these are private residences, police cannot enter without probable cause, and they exist in a kind of policing no-man’s land.

We should demand to know how many assaults have occurred at the clubs, how many have been reported, and how many actually prosecuted. Harvard’s administrators have been understandably reluctant to confront these powerful organizations and their well-connected alumni, and instead have allowed their female undergraduates to be assaulted weekend after weekend.

I urge the University to release the results of the survey detailing where these assaults occurred and, if they are occurring at the final clubs, to absorb these clubs back into the university so that they will no longer be able to flout Harvard’s policies. Most importantly, I urge Harvard to create a commission for investigating assault that includes student advocates, sexual assault experts, and members of law enforcement. Rape is a crime, not a matter for gentlemen to resolve behind closed doors, and it’s time to start treating it as such.

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Elisabeth Poorman '06

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