Ms. Magazine

spring 2003
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this is what a feminist looks like

Features
The Feminist To-Do List by Gloria Steinem
Ms. Poll Feminist Tide Sweeps In as the 21st Century Begins by Lorraine Dusky
Affirmative Action on Trial by Teresa Stern
Women on Death Row by Claudia Dreifus
In the Thick of Life at 70 by Jessica Chornesky

Special Action Alert
Women Take Action Worldwide
Listing: Coalitions and Groups
National Council of Women's Organizations Statement on War with Iraq
NCWO Partial Members List
Why Peace is (More Than Ever) a Feminist Issue
by Grace Paley

Writing of War and Its Consequences
Ghosts of Home by Patricia Sarrafian Ward
Tales from an Ordinary Iranian Girlhood by Marjane Satrapi
Snow in Summer: LA, CA, 1963 by Helen Zelon

News
Pat Summitt's 800th Victory
Augusta Golf Club's Red Face
National Map of Priest Abuse
Women Warriors
Lesbians with Strollers
Kopp Trial
Trouble in Herat, Afghanistan
Reproductive Rights in Poland
Health Clinics in Guatemala
Congolese Women for Peace
Global Good News Round-Up
The Opposite of a Nuclear Bomb

Departments
Lower Breast Cancer Risks by Liz Galst
The Making of an Activist by Gloria Feldt
Nature Conservancy Gains by Rachel Rabkin
Harvard Stumbles on Rape Rules by Lorraine Dusky
The Bush Overhaul of Federal Courts by Stephanie B. Goldberg
My Friend Yeshi by Alice Walker

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Lorraine Dusky's magazine articles have earned her two EMMAs (Exceptional Merit in Media Award) from the National Women's Political Caucus. Her most recent book is Still Unequal:
The Shameful Truth about Women and Justice in America.


Harvard Stumbles Over Rape Reporting
by Lorraine Dusky

Not so, says Robert Mitchell, spokesman for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. He says that much is being made over a small "procedural" change in the policy, and that what is being asked for when a student makes a complaint is assurance that there will be "some kind" of corroborating evidence that will allow the administration to deal with the issue fairly to both students involved. When asked what sufficient "corroborating evidence," would be, he said, "it could be almost anything-a written document, or if the complainant went back to her dorm and had a conversation with her roommate, or wrote a note to herself in her computer or sent an e-mail. We don't need an eyewitness or anything like that. We are only requiring that we see corroborating evidence sooner rather than later in the process." If there is no evidence for the campus investigators to consider, he added, this makes it easier on both students, since no resolution can be reached.

"Doesn't it sound reasonable?" asks Murphy rhetorically. "But what they are saying is that if we are not going to believe you at the end of the process, why should we bother to investigate from the get-go? Instead of finding a way of dealing responsibly with rapes on campus, they are avoiding the problem altogether by saying the word of a woman isn't good enough."

Precisely that is what is spelled out in Harvard's response to the DOE: "Cases in which there is no evidence beyond the conflicting and credible accounts of the participants are inherently incapable of resolution by the [Administrative] Board. In such cases, the Board generally voted to take no action, meaning that, while a serious accusation has been made, it had not been or could not be substantiated."

Murphy points out that most sexual assaults on campuses occur between peers who know one another. What's in dispute usually centers only on the issue of consent. "Requiring corroboration of the absence of consent ensures that the vast majority of sexual assault victims will be denied access to grievance procedures," she states. "Yet they clorA require this kind of corroboration if you file a complaint of racial discrimination."

The change in the stated policy came about after a prominent Boston attorney defended a Harvard student who, he says, was falsely accused of sexual assault. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education last August, Harvey A. Silverglate called the new policy "one of the best things to happen to a campus-judicial system," since it brings to university proceedings the same kind of protections one has in a court of law where there are "numerous layers of protection against trials of unwarranted charges. Harvard has now instituted just one such layer."

But a university is not the criminal justice system. "Liberty is not at stake, and the school administrators are not the police nor prosecutors," counters Murphy. "If anyone is entitled to 'protections' it should be the victim of sexual assault because what we are talking about is the most serious kind of gender discrimination-and that's prohibited by the civil rights laws which the schools are mandated to enforce under Title IX "

So, how many rapes are there at Harvard? Because of the non-reporting of rape, it's difficult to know. According to Harvard's police department's Web site, in compliance with the Clery Act, a total of 16 rapes were reported in the calendar year 2000, and 23 were reported in 2001. (Numbers for 2002 were not yet posted). Professor Jennifer Leaning, head of the Committee to Address Sexual Assault at Harvard (CASAH), says that in the academic year 2000-2001 only five rapes went to the Administrative Board for investigation; one was resolved in favor of the female accuser, and her attacker was asked to leave the school. The others reached no resolution.

Because the numbers are murky, Professor Leaning said, her committee, formed after the hubbub when the policy change was announced, is focusing not on statistics but instead on education and prevention. "We have no illusion that what we are seeing is a true reflection of the actual incidence, she says. "We will consider it a sign of success if in the short term a greater number of incidents are reported to the administration."

Considering that in academic year 2000-2001-even before the new, tougher standard was set-four out of five times when the Administrative Board did investigate a woman’s report of rape, the man got off, Leaning's committee faces a real challenge.

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Flashfact

Alcohol is a crime factor: The Universities of Colorado, Vermont, and Wisconsin each have 150 bars within 2 miles of their campuses.


Take Action

* Learn more about security on campus. Read the Department of Justice's report Campus Sexual Assault: How America's Institutions Of Higher Education Respond (August 2002)

* Read related stories in the Feminist Daily News.

* Help stop violence against women and girls. Visit the V-Day website and find anti-violence resources, campaigns and area actions.

Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009