Ms. Magazine

spring 2003
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this is what a feminist looks like

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

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

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

Photo by Patricia McDonnell
AP Photo

You might think that the nation's oldest and arguably most prestigious university-- Harvard-- would have a policy on sexual assault in place that lesser schools might emulate. You would be wrong.

In fact, the rules for bringing a formal charge of rape by another student are the subject of heated controversy on the Cambridge campus, and have been since the faculty voted for the new wording of the rules last spring. Today, almost a year later, students are confused over what kind of corroboration the university requires to institute an investigation, and posters decrying the policy change have sprung up around campus. The school has hired a coordinator to develop preventive programs and support services for sexual assault victims; a special ad hoc committee of faculty and students is looking into the issue of how to prevent sexual assault on campus. And a student who remains anonymous has filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s (DOE) Office of Civil Rights, charging that the policy is a violation of Title IX, the federal statute that bars gender discrimination in education. A ruling is expected before the summer.

What caused the uproar is a seemingly subtle change in the wording in the student handbook, requiring "independent corroborating evidence" that an assault has occurred.

Does this mean a simple "I was raped isn’t sufficient? That's certainly what it sounds like, say some students. "We already had a system where the victims [of sexual assault] feel unsupported and that they can't come forward," says junior Alisha Johnson, a board member of the Coalition against Sexual Violence, a student group that sprang up in 1998 after two highly publicized rapes on campus. "This just adds to the environment where you feel you are not going to be believed. This will cause a lot fewer victims to come forward."

Few ever do, says sexual assault expert Professor Mary Koss of the University of Arizona. Koss, who has extensively studied the incidence of rape among college women, reports that more than 40 percent of women students say they are victims of some sort of sexual assault, up to and including rape, but only approximately 5 percent of them ever report the crime, and an even smaller number than that are actually investigated anywhere. Several studies attest to the fact that close to half of the students sexually assaulted-- which can be anything from undesired touching to rape-- never mentioned what happened to anyone.

This non-reporting means that schools record and report numbers of sexual assault that are well below what is actually happening on campus, and that is the way many school administrators would like to keep it, according to Wendy Murphy, the former sex crimes prosecutor and visiting scholar at Harvard Law who is representing the student filing the complaint with the DOE. Murphy points out that as long as no formal complaint is made to the administration, the schools need not include it in their statistics under the Clery Act. "The new rule at Harvard is like an announcement that they don’t want to hear from victims if all they have is their word," she notes. "This keeps the reporting rates down and that allows them to file data that is inconsistent with what we know the numbers to be."



Since 1990, a federal law known as the Jeanne Clery Act has required schools to keep track of crimes in campus communities and to make the records public.

* Since 1998, schools found in non-compliance with the Clery Act are fined $25,000 per violation.

* A report released to Congress last fall found that only 37 percent of America's colleges and universities are in full compliance with federal law on reporting sexual crime statistics. Less than 50 percent of four-year public and private nonprofit schools' reports used the Clery Act sexual crime categories.

Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009