A student uses her laptop computer on the steps to Memorial Church at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts September 21, 2009.
Brian Snyder/Reuters

Sexual assault in colleges: an open letter

Updated

The White House Council on Women and Girls’ official figures on sexual assault are alarming. One in five women has been sexually assaulted while in college, but on average only 12 percent of student victims report an assault to law enforcement.  ”The prevalence of rape and sexual assault at our Nation’s institutions of higher education is both deeply troubling and a call to action,” stated the Presidential Memorandum that went out in late January of this year for the purpose of establishing a new, inter-agency effort to prevent violence in schools and support survivors.  

The new task force, charged with increasing transparency, enforcement, and public awareness, released its first report last month. This report by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault was intended as a first step toward better coordination in combating this epidemic. On the heels of these newly published guidelines, the Department of Education announced in a press release the names of 55 colleges and universities, across 26 states and Washington D.C., facing federal investigation for the possible mishandling of on campus sexual assault cases.

Last Friday, on the show, we touched on the government’s renewed focus in addressing the problem of campus rape and sexual assault. We also talked to Harvard professor Kimberly Theidon, who has worked extensively with survivors of sexual assault and who is amid a controversial lawsuit with the college over alleged violations of Title IX. As Dr. Theidon explained, she was driven to speak out against the school after she witnessed the response to a powerful article that came out in the Harvard Crimson about sexual assault on campus.  The article’s comment thread was inundated with “hateful comments aimed at blaming and shaming” the victims. Commenters lashed out at the sexual assault victims both for what had happened to them and for speaking about it. Dr. Theidon went on to say that there has been “a pervasive practice of silencing this problem on campuses and certainly on the Harvard campus.”  

On reflection, one of Dr. Theidon’s statements struck a cord, “we have no idea the magnitude of the problem.” 

After the show, the segment producer shared with me an anonymous open letter that we both agreed needed to be shared with you all.  The letter was written by a Harvard student, who says she was sexually assaulted on campus in 2013.  In March of this year, that letter was published in the Harvard Crimson. Below are two short excerpts, but you can read the full open letter here: Dear Harvard: You Win

As always, we’d love for you to share with us your thoughts about the open letter, last Friday’s segment (College Sexual Assault Probe Underway Nationwide) or any other related topic that comes to mind.  

We’re vigilantly watching this campaign to combat sexual assault in our schools, and we will continue to provide you updates to this story.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault in colleges: an open letter

Updated