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Harvard to Pilot Anonymous Title IX Reporting System

President Lawrence S. Bacow chairs the meetings of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences held each month in University Hall.
President Lawrence S. Bacow chairs the meetings of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences held each month in University Hall. By Amy Y. Li
By Simone C. Chu and Iris M. Lewis, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard will pilot a new online anonymous reporting system for Title IX complaints starting this July, following months of discussions across the University.

The new system is designed to be a resource for students, according to University spokesperson Nate Herpich.

“The intent is for the system to be online, as a resource for the Harvard community, in addition to the already existing staff, resources, and trainings available through the Title IX Office,” he wrote in an emailed statement.

Herpich did not provide specific logistical details about Harvard’s program.

Title IX is a federal anti-discrimination law designed to combat unfair differentiation on the basis of gender, and some schools use anonymous Title IX reports to record information regarding incidents of sexual misconduct on or around campus. Anonymity allows individuals to report all the details that they are comfortable with reporting right after an incident has occurred. Once an anonymous report is filed, however, different schools have different protocols.

Princeton, for example, has an anonymous phone reporting system, which it says it is not confidential and that reports may result in investigations. Northeastern University allows for anonymous reporting, but acknowledges that resulting investigations are necessarily inhibited by anonymity. Cornell, Dartmouth, and Reed College also allow individuals to make anonymous reports.

Advocates of anonymous reporting — including the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which spearheaded a sexual misconduct climate collaborative in which Harvard is involved — say that anonymity helps support victims.

Sanika S. Mahajan ’21, an organizer for anti-sexual assault advocacy group Our Harvard Can Do Better, wrote in an email that she supports the idea of anonymity.

“The initiative to kickstart an online anonymous reporting system is an exciting step forward for the fight against sexual violence and misconduct on campus,” she wrote. “The implementation of this system could lower barriers to reporting for many survivors, and they are more likely to report sooner.”

Mahajan added that she hopes to see transparency around how the administration handles the anonymous reports.

The Government Department Committee on Climate Change mentioned the anonymous reporting system in its final report, which was released May 1. The report indicates that the committee — which was tasked with investigating departmental culture in the wake of multiple sexual misconduct allegations levied against Government Professor Emeritus Jorge I. Dominguez — was interested in instituting its own anonymous reporting system, but was asked not to because the University was planning to roll out its own.

“To further reduce barriers to reporting, we planned to propose the adoption of an online anonymous reporting system,” the report reads. “However, the Title IX Office will launch a university-wide anonymous reporting system in July 2019 and thus asked us to refrain from creating an alternative system.”

In December 2018, University President Lawrence S. Bacow recommended the Title IX office create an online reporting system following the release of a report on University Title IX policies. He did not mention at the time, however, whether this would be an anonymous system.

University Spokesperson Jonathan Swain wrote in an emailed statement that the report resulted from consultation with various University stakeholders.

“The Title IX Office has engaged with a diverse set of Harvard community members for suggestions on such a system’s functionality, as well as offered them the opportunity to participate in testing the system,” he wrote.

Another major Title IX initiative — the Survey on Sexual Assault on Misconduct — wrapped up on April 30. Four years ago, the results of the first iteration of the survey spurred a series of changes in the Title IX Office, including an increase in the number of coordinators and more employee and student trainings.

— Staff writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at simone.chu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.

— Staff writer Iris M. Lewis can be reached at iris.lewis@thecrimson.com.

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