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Curtailing Rape Culture at Harvard

This repugnant tradition should serve as a reminder that our campus is not impervious to rape culture.

By The Crimson Editorial Board

This week, a news story in The Crimson exposed an annual tradition of the Harvard men’s soccer team in which team members produce a “scouting report” about the freshmen recruits of the women’s soccer team. In the scouting report from 2012, the members of the men’s soccer team systematically evaluate, rate, and degrade the women based on their physical appearance and perceived sexual attractiveness.

This reprehensible practice reflects a culture of male sexual entitlement, where certain norms and expectations lead some to believe that women’s bodies are for their consumption. The language used in the uncovered document objectifies women, dissecting them into body parts and rating them based on their worth as sexual objects. And this behavior has significant consequences, as it drives sexual assault and violence against women.

This repugnant tradition should serve as a reminder that our campus is not impervious to rape culture. Among the female undergraduate respondents to an Association of American Universities survey made public by the University’s Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault, more than 72 percent had experienced sexual harassment. And this culture of sexual violence at Harvard is aided and abetted by conversations between men—our own friends and classmates—in which they reduce women to objects of pleasure.

But sexual entitlement and rape culture are not unique to Harvard. Earlier this year, Baylor University was exposed for outright ignoring the many women who came forward as survivors of sexual assault by Baylor football players, because the school was more concerned with preserving its reputation and that of its football team. And outside the collegiate setting, rape culture manifests itself through street harassment, victim-blaming, and rape jokes. The Harvard men’s soccer team's “scouting reports” are symptomatic of a broader culture of entitlement and violence.

Indeed, rape culture is ingrained so deeply in our society that it is trivialized. Sexual entitlement and sexual assault are often dismissed as nothing more than “locker room talk.” Nevertheless, misogyny should be neither accepted nor condoned. Harvard ought to hold its students accountable for such toxic language and behavior. The Harvard administration has an important role to play here, and it should seek out measures that could combat this culture of sexual entitlement and casual misogyny.

More specifically, these recent revelations underscore the need for redoubled efforts at training for on-campus and off-campus student groups, with a particular focus on fostering respectful attitudes about women and positively creating a campus environment free from misogyny and violence. Most importantly, Harvard should establish real accountability mechanisms.

Finally, Harvard should commit itself to transparency and honesty. Director of Athletics Robert L. Scalise may claim—in reference to the recently surfaced tradition—that “this is not a media thing,” but it was the media that brought this issue to his attention in the first place. As the saying goes, sunlight is often the best disinfectant, and the first step to combating these problems is to raise awareness about them in the first place. We know that this problem transcends the men’s soccer team, and we encourage other people to come forward and report to the media or administration if they have had similar experiences.

With greater transparency and greater accountability, we can slowly work together toward dismantling this culture of sexual entitlement and misogyny plaguing Harvard and our culture more generally.

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