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
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