Harvard students who have been sexually assaulted and want medical professionals to perform an evidence collection kit, which documents physical traumas from the assault, must travel to Boston-area hospitals for the procedure.
Last week, an anonymous op-ed in The Crimson drew attention to one student’s experience seeking medical resources at Harvard after she had been sexually assaulted, detailing how she could not obtain a sexual assault evidence collection kit—sometimes referred to as a “rape kit”—from the University. Her difficulty having an evidence kit performed, according to Harvard officials, is not unique to the University, but a result of Massachusetts law and the absence of emergency facilities at Harvard University Health Services.
“Evidence collection kits are done, and this is true in the entire state of Massachusetts, they are done in emergency facilities,” said Alicia Oeser, the director of Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, which offers counseling and sexual assault prevention resources. She emphasized that Harvard does not offer emergency medical services.
In Massachusetts, a specialized set of nurses conduct the evidence kits at a select number of emergency centers in the state. The regulated governmental process helps ensure that the evidence the nurses collect can be used in future criminal processes, according to Oeser. If there is any error in the evidence collection procedure, the kit’s utility as evidence could be jeopardized.
“It won’t get tested at all until a criminal charge is present,” Oeser said.
Because these kits are police evidence, they do not frequently play a role in University investigations into sexual assault complaints. The results from an evidence collection kit only play a role in the investigation when a student presses criminal charges and decides to share evidence from the criminal proceedings with Harvard’s Office of Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution, which investigates complaints of sexual assault.
“When you’re talking about these kits, unless there is a criminal proceeding, that kit is not being processed and therefore the complainant doesn’t have kit results to share with ODR,” said Mia Karvonides, the director of ODR and the University’s Title IX Officer. “And so there are no conclusive findings from processing the kit unless it has gone forward in a criminal proceeding and the complainant decides to share it with ODR and then the other party."
The op-ed brings renewed attention to sexual assault at Harvard and the University’s processes for investigating complaints of sexual assault. Last semester, a University task force recommended a number of new programs for preventing sexual assault. A recent graduate also sued Harvard, arguing that it had acted with “deliberate indifference” to her sexual assault complaint. The federal government continues to review the College’s compliance with Title IX.
—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.