Thursday, May 01, 2014

OCR to Investigate Harvard's Handling of Sexual Assault

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced this week that it will open an investigation into whether Harvard's response to sexual violence on campus complies with Title IX and other federal law.  The investigation was prompted by a complaint  filed with the agency on March 31 that includes testimonials of 10 students alleging that the college mishandled their allegations of sexual assault.  Such allegations include:

-- lack of clear information provided to survivors about options for redress and interim support
-- failure to provide survivors with written notification of the outcome of the adjudication process
-- college officials' indifferent attitude, as exemplified by one who told a woman of color that "it is in your culture that men are gropey," and by others who suggested the victim's drinking was to blame
-- unenforced orders of no contact
-- failure to adequately punish those found responsible for sexual assault (a one-semester suspension, for example)
-- confusion about the college's jurisdiction over misconduct that happens at Harvard's "finals clubs" which are not technically college property
-- a policy that defines actionable sexual violence in an overly-narrow way by requiring "physical force or the threat of bodily injury"

OCR reports that as part of its investigation into the complaint, it will visit the campus to review records and conduct interviews. Meanwhile, Harvard president Drew Faust has announced the creation of a new task force to improve the university's policies and practices regarding sexual violence.  University-wide reform is clearly warranted; Harvard Law School has been the subject of a similar OCR investigation since 2011.