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Harvard’s Step in the Wrong Direction

The faculty of Harvard College recently voted unanimously to require students bringing criminal cases, especially cases of rape or sexual assault, before the college disciplinary board to provide “sufficient corroborating evidence” before the board will consider investigating and hearing the case. The student must provide a written statement and “a list of witnesses and/or an account of the evidence they believe the Board will be able to obtain in the course of an investigation.” This change comes after several hearings that led to no conclusion because sufficient evidence could not be gathered by the disciplinary board. The faculty hopes to lessen the frustration of all parties involved due to a prolonged investigation and hearing. The Tech believes that this change in policy will only serve to further discourage victims of sexual assault from reporting an incident. We do not think that the disciplinary board should make a judgement about a case before it has carried out a formal investigation into the matter. We understand the reasoning behind the situation, but we feel that this is not the appropriate solution.

Sexual assaults are rarely reported because of the humiliating nature of the crime. For most victims, discussing the details of such a demeaning crime with anyone, especially an authority figure such as a police officer or member of a school administration, is almost as painful as the actual experience. Harvard’s policy requires victims to carry out an investigation before their case would even be considered for investigation by the disciplinary board. A student has neither the authority nor the resources that the board has to carry out an investigation. In order to discover the kind of evidence the disciplinary board might obtain, the victim may be forced to discuss the matter with friends of the accused or even the alleged attacker. This is an unreasonable expectation of someone who has just gone through a traumatic experience. Victims may be even more reluctant to seek a hearing if such a difficult investigation must be carried out on their own.

If the disciplinary board tells a victim that their case does not have sufficient evidence, the victim is likely to feel frustrated because the university has cast them aside. One case of sexual assault should not be turned away simply because previous similar cases yielded no results. Every case of sexual assault is different because each involves different people. This is why a separate formal investigation should be carried out by the board before any decision is made.

The only good aspect of the Harvard decision is that it has brought the matter of sexual assault to the attention of colleges across the country, including MIT. At MIT, the rate of incidence of sexual assault is not well known. Similarly, it is difficult for students to find out what to do if they experience sexual assault. There has been a very large campaign to increase campus mental health awareness. Because of the work of the mental health task force, mental health services are now extremely accessible. We believe that a similar campaign should be held to increase sexual assault awareness. At this point, we do not feel that the means of reporting sexual assault is clear to the MIT community. Because of this lack of information, it is difficult to tell if the MIT policy for hearing sexual assault cases is as flawed as the new Harvard policy. This, in itself, is a very large flaw in the MIT policy which needs to be repaired immediately.

The editorial board reached its decision with a vote of 5-3-3.