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Volume 2, Number 4, July 2002

Harvard Includes Mediation in New Sexual Assault Policy

The following news story is based on an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education dated May 24, 2002.

Harvard University now has a sexual assault policy that includes the option of confidential mediation. According to Chronicle of Education writer Eric Hoover,

Starting this fall, university officials will determine in advance of an inquiry whether a complaint is backed by 'sufficient independent corroboration' -- more than one student's word against another's -- including eyewitnesses and physical evidence. If no such corroboration is available, officials may dismiss the complaint and refer students to a lawyer or to a new 'confidential mediation' process to resolve the matter.

Harvard officials hope the new policy, which raises the standard of proof needed in order for the campus judicial system to hear allegations of sexual assault by students, will streamline the complaint process. Currently, every complaint leads to an investigation. The oftentimes lengthy investigations can be painful and frustrating for the students involved. While the new policy eliminates full investigation of every complaint, it does provide more options. Harvard believes the options are fairer, less intrusive and quicker methods of resolution.

Mediation Is Effective

Rahib Chanda, who wrote an article for the Spring 2001 edition of the Harvard Negotiation Law Review, argues that mediation is the most effective process for resolving sexual-assault cases. In 'Mediating University Sexual Assault Cases' he states,

Mediation agreements can be tailored to best meet the parties' interests going forward. Litigation or university disciplinary procedures yield two possible outcomes: the offender will either be held responsible or he will not be. If it is the former...the offender will either be put in jail or suspended or expelled from the school. The two parties are not likely to encounter one another again. If the latter result occurs, however, the victim is fairly powerless...they are likely to see each other again...By contrast, in a mediated agreement, the parties can structure their future relationship.

Chanda also explains that mediated agreements can include a crucial aspect of healing and closure - an apology. In 'Sex, Rape, and Shame', an article in the June 1999 edition of the Boston University Law Review, Katherine K. Baker states

Apologizing forces people to admit their wrongdoing in a way that criminal punishments often do not. It also forces people to appreciate the consequence of their actions and focus on whether the consequences are worth it.

Different Opinions about the New Policy

As with any new decision or rule, there are differing opinions about the new policy concerning sexual-assault complaints at Harvard. Some students feel the elimination of investigations for all complaints ignores students, as well as the issue of rape and assault. Supporters of the policy, however, see the new strategy as innovative. They feel that offering alternatives to lengthy investigation is empowering and commendable.

For more information about sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape policies at Harvard, visit the Tell Someone website at

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