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May 25 , 2003



By Gretchen Cook - WeNews correspondent

(WOMENSENEWS) --Harvard University ignited a firestorm of protest last
spring when its undergraduate school scrapped its long-standing policy of
investigating all rape charges brought by one student against another. Instead it
imposed a requirement that the victim provide "sufficient corroborating evidence"
before a probe could be launched.

In a vote Tuesday, May 20, a special faculty committee appointed to review the
policy reversed course and agreed to replace "corroborating evidence" with "as
much information as possible." The members also approved recommendations
from the student-faculty Committee to Address Sexual Assault at Harvard for a
new office for sexual assault prevention and the expansion of rape awareness

Harvard College director of communications Robert Mitchell could not be
reached for comment on Tuesday's vote. His office stressed, however, that the
new "language is not describing any change to the Advisory Board's procedures
that were adopted last year. And as was true according to the Ad Board
procedures last year, and as continues to be true now, every complaint is heard."

Sarah B. Levit-Shore, a student member of the sexual-assault committee, called
the vote "a significant step forward." She added, however, that the real test would
be next year's report on how Harvard implements the committee's

A year ago, the student activist group the Coalition against Sexual Violence
rejected Harvard's new rule as overly burdensome, arguing that sexual assaults
rarely have such evidence. They demanded the policy be reworded and that all
sex assault charges be investigated. Alisha Johnson, a member of that activist
group, says she now hopes the Ivy League's latest sexual-assault policy will help
rape victims on other campuses. "People pay attention to what Harvard does, so
if this helps other schools address this issue adequately then we're happy about

Whether Harvard's decision will push others to take the same approach is a
matter of some doubt, however.

Campus Rape Statistics Unreliable

Figures on sexual assaults against college women have historically been sketchy.
Part of the problem is simply underreporting, says Diane Clark, a professor at
Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. She says that victims are confused
about what constitutes rape and that universities often fail to inform them on the

"I'm not convinced that many college students really understand when their rights
have been violated and that they don't feel they're at least somewhat to blame,"
says Clark. She is conducting a study on how male and female students perceive
sexual assault.

In addition, little effort has been made to monitor the crime nationally. It wasn't
until 1990 that the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and
Campus Crime Statistics Act was passed, named after a student at Lehigh
University in Bethlehem, Pa., who was raped and murdered in her dorm in 1986.
The law requires any schools receiving federal aid to notify victims of their right to
report their assaults to law-enforcement authorities. The schools must also issue
annual reports on crimes committed on their campuses.

A two-year study published last year by the Education Development Center, Inc.
of Newton, Mass., found that over 60 percent of the schools fail to comply with
the act. And the 2000 "National Baseline Study on Campus Sexual Assault:
Adjudicating Sexual Assault Cases" by the nonprofit Association for Student
Judicial Affairs, a professional group, based in College Station, Texas, concluded
that "the exact percentage of incidents of rape or attempted rape which occur on
a college campus can't be determined." Nonetheless, "The Sexual Victimization of
College Women," sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2000, did
estimate that one in four women experienced rape or attempted rape during their
college career.

Tactics to Minimize Rape Reporting on the Rise

Catherine Bath, program director for Security On Campus, Inc. says that data
collected by her King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based nonprofit group indicated
the number of campus rapes has remained relatively steady over the decade.
What she does see, however, is an alarming increase in the tactics schools use to
minimize reporting.

"We've seen victims outright discouraged from reporting rape because they've
been told they could be found guilty of drinking or having sex in the dorm," says
Bath. She adds that campus rape victims are "afraid of even going through the
campus judicial system, for fear of being sanctioned."

Two such cases have been in the headlines recently. Last year, Boston University
student Meghann Horner reported a sexual assault and told campus authorities
she had smoked marijuana with her assailant. The university cleared the alleged
rapist but charged Horner with illegal drug use. Those charges, later overturned,
came on the heels of protests over the treatment of another Boston University
rape victim. In that case, Kristin Roslonski was suspended for drinking on campus
after she had reported being raped by a fellow student. Roslonski has filed a $1.4
million civil suit against Boston University.

Wendy Murphy, a Boston attorney who has worked with campus rape victims for
10 years, cites other strategies schools use to discourage rape reporting. These
include: insisting victims turn over all information on psychological counseling or
medical exams prior to the assault and waiving any confidentiality rights to those
files; instituting strict statutes of limitations--most college victims will not
immediately report the assault; erroneously warning victims that if they get a rape
evidence kit done they will have to press charges even if they later change their
minds; and pressuring victims to accept a campus mediation process in lieu of
outside judicial recourse.

Murphy says that last hurdle--of pushing campus mediation--is the most
egregious. "What victims need most in these cases is access to outside counseling
and representation," she says.

In another recent case, Georgetown University student Kate Dieringer reported
she was drugged and raped in 2001, her first year, by a student who was acting
as her student-orientation advisor. The school held a hearing on the charges, but
demanded Dieringer sign a confidentiality agreement before she could be informed
of the outcome--and know whether her alleged assailant would be allowed to
return to campus.

Georgetown's Office of Student Conduct not only let the accused rapist off, but
the office's director labeled Dieringer "a woman scorned." Outraged that the
confidentiality agreement kept her from pursuing the charges elsewhere, Dieringer
filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education charging that the
agreement violated the Clery Act, which requires campuses to inform victims of
their right to outside counsel. Dieringer's case is still pending.

Gretchen Cook is a writer in Washington, D.C.

For more information:

Education Development Center, Inc.-- - "Campus Sexual Assault: How
America's Institutions of Higher Education Respond (Report to Congress)": -

Association for Student Judicial Affairs-- - "National Baseline Study on Campus
Sexual Assault: - Adjudicating Sexual Assault Cases": -

U.S. Department of Justice - Office of Justice Programs-- - "The Sexual
Victimization of College Women": http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf



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