This Sexual Assault Survivor's Letter to Harvard Is a Punch in the Gut

An anonymous Harvard student writes about her sexual assault and the complete lack of help that the Harvard administration gave her. Entitled, "Dear Harvard: You Win," the open letter heartbreakingly portrays the indifferent and perfunctory way with which America's Best University dealt with her assault.

First off, the letter writer describes what happened to her, with the usual suspects - a trusted friend, inability to fight him off due to alcohol and intimidation - involved:

He was a friend of mine and I trusted him. It was a freezing Friday night when I stumbled into his dorm room after too many drinks. He took my shirt off and started biting the skin on my neck and breast. I pushed back on his chest and asked him to stop kissing me aggressively. He laughed. He said that I should "just wear a scarf" to cover the marks. He continued to abuse my body, hurting my breast and vagina. He asked me to use my mouth. I said no. I was intoxicated, I was in pain, I was trapped between him and the wall, and I was scared to death that he would continue to ignore what I said. I stopped everything and turned my back to him, praying he would leave me alone. He started getting impatient. "Are you only going to make me hard, or are you going to make me come?" he said in a demanding tone.

It did not sound like a question. I obeyed.

After she reported the assault, the administration claimed that they could not investigate, since her situation supposedly did not match their definition of sexual assault, which they wrote over 20 years ago:

The policy, published in the spring of 1993, defines "indecent assault and battery" to be anything involving "unwanted touching or fondling of a sexual nature that is accompanied by physical force or threat of bodily injury." It does not provide any definition of consent beyond the brief mention, in its definition of rape, that a victim cannot consent if he or she is unable to express unwillingness due to alcohol or drugs, among other factors.

Sounds like her situation was covered to me, but I don't enforce the rules here. That, unfortunately is all up to the Harvard administration, which doesn't seem to understand what sexual assault actually is.

And apparently, they do the bare minimum to comply with Title IX:

In an attempt to comply with Title IX regulation—which requires universities to provide a safe environment to survivors of sexual assault—school officials told me about 20 times that I should feel free to transfer to a different House if I wanted to.

You know, instead of getting her assailant to move out, because it would be unfair to do so without a "fair investigative process," which they were unwilling to open in the first place.

Still, with more compassion than perhaps these authority figures observe, the survivor writes about them with some empathy:

I know deep down that all those administrators are not bad people. They want to be supportive, and they really try to be. But they have no idea how to do deal with cases of sexual violence because they have not been trained sufficiently. They use insensitive language, unfortunate comparisons, and empty phrases to avoid any liability issues that could come up. They simply do not know, and, as a result, they do more harm than good when trying to handle cases of sexual violence.

Moreover, these administrators operate within a system that offers little alternative for people in my situation and bounds administrators to inaction because their jobs depend on it.

The Internet has been debating recently whether college administrations are equipped to deal with sexual assault complaints, or even if "rape culture" exists. This letter not only shows that sexual assault is a systemic problem on our campuses, but that Title IX compliance means nothing if administrators can use their outdated policies to get out of helping victims. And although Title IX doesn't apply to the criminal justice system, it doesn't help either if a man can escape prison time for raping his own three-year-old daughter. This letter is a wake-up call that combatting sexual assault takes concerted action, not just official language.

As for how the survivor is faring after this ordeal, the introduction to her letter makes it clear:

This morning, as I swallowed my three blue pills of Sertraline and tried to forget about the nightmares that haunted my night, I finally admitted it to myself: I have lost my battle against this institution. Seven months after I reported what happened, my assailant still lives in my House. I am weeks behind in the three classes I'm taking. I have to take sleeping pills every night to fall and stay asleep, and I routinely get nightmares in which I am sexually assaulted in public. I cannot drink alcohol without starting to cry hysterically. I dropped my favorite extracurriculars because I cannot find the energy to drag myself out of bed. I do not care about my future anymore, because I don't know who I am or what I care about or whether I will still be alive in a few years. I spend most of my time outside of class curled up in bed, crying, sleeping, or staring at the ceiling, occasionally wondering if I just heard my assailant's voice in the staircase. Often, the cough syrup sitting in my drawer or the pavement several floors down from my window seem like reasonable options.

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