[Crimson] A Job Well Done, More To Do


“It is also our hope that the new director focus intensely on advocating for sexual assault policy change. Our Harvard Can Do Better a student campaign for sexual assault policy reform received overwhelming support for its policy demands in a student referendum last year. Among those demands are a policy of affirmative consent, clarifying the meaning of mental incapacitation, and offering comprehensive and inclusive sexual assault prevention and response training every year. The group also calls for more transparency in the administration and for clearer language that includes the LGBTQ-identifying community. These commonsense reforms have been implemented at a number of peer colleges, and they will go a long way toward creating safe social environments.

A standard of affirmative consent in particular is a change that would be critical in helping students to have more power in prosecuting assailants and in creating cultural change on campus. Despite the successes of the Our Harvard Can Do Better campaign, students have thus far lacked a strong ally in OSAPR who is willing to push for their demands. We hope that OSAPR’s new director can become that ally, and that he or she does not shy away from advocating for reform to administrators.

We salute the outstanding work that Sarah Rankin has accomplished in her seven years as OSAPR director. With a greater focus on policy reform, OSAPR can become an even stronger ally for sexual assault survivors and students working to effect change.”


Silence ≠ Consent

The boys’ lawyers plan to argue that silence is consent. Attorneys for Maystried to get the charges dropped entirely because two of his friends were denied the chance to serve as witnesses. When that failed, the defense came up with a different strategy: They plan to argue that, “[s]he didn’t affirmatively say no,” and thus gave her consent. This ignores Ohio’s law, much like laws in the rest of the country, that agreeing to go out with someone does not mean you have given consent to sex. The lawyers’ argument is perhaps most disturbing, because it actually echoes one of the jokes captured in the uploaded Anonymous video: “It isn’t really rape because you don’t know if she wanted to or not.”

Read more: Everything You Need To Know About The Steubenville Rape Trial

On affirmative consent:


from “Affirmative Consent as Legal Standard?” from Yes Means Yes 

The “it will ruin sex” objection is one of several common objections that I think are rhetorical and fall apart under even casual scrutiny. For example:

“Why does the guy have to secure consent?”

He doesn’t. It’s a gender-neutral obligation. Initiator secures consent. Worked fine at Antioch.

“What if they are both drunk?”

Same answer.

“What if nobody initiates?”

Not possible. If two people lay in bed next to each other, no sexual contact takes place. If we mush up “sex” into some gauzy montage, and refuse to consider it as anything but a unified whole, it becomes possible to have a confused situation about initiation. But each act has to have an initiator. It is that person who has the obligation in the first instance.

“What if they initiate mutually?”

Well, that’s enthusiastic participation. If two people lean in to kiss each other at the same time and stick their tongues in each other’s mouths, I think we can be pretty clear on consent.

“But … Isn’t It Awkward?”

Well, here’s the beauty of it. It isn’t, because people can always bargain around the law in private arrangements, and law provides a background rule. The person initiating has the obligation to secure consent. In the presence of enthusiastic participation, that person may be so clear on the existence of consent that they don’t need a verbal confirmation — but they have to be willing to assume the risk of error. The non-initiator, if they are for example a survivor who freezes, faces serious consequences from a mistake, and the initiator faces serious consequences from a mistake theoretically (but not actually because there are no convictions in these situations). But the initiator is more able to avoid the mistake by checking for affirmative consent. As I recall, “stop if your partner goes limp” was a rule of Fight Club. If a bunch of guys fighting in a basement can observe that, we can expect it between sex partners, I should think.

The other way to “bargain around the rule” is to explicitly agree that silence equals consent and set other conditions for revocation, which is what BDSMers do with safewords and safesigns. Empirically, the experiment worked at Antioch, where the students loved the policy.

[Yes Means Yes]

[Crimson] Revise the Policy

The ballot measure, which grew out of an earlier petition, asks for a couple of key measures. One is as adopting a standard of “affirmative consent,” which sounds redundant but in fact is meaningful. The term refines the definition of consent from “not saying no to sex” to “saying yes to the sex with words or clearly enthusiastic actions.” This is necessary not to harshly punish people caught in seemingly ambiguous situations, but rather to prevent these situations from being as ambiguous in the first place. It rejects the “gatekeeper” model of sexual consent, where one partner, usually a woman, rejects sex repeatedly before finally “giving in,” a model normalizes sex after one party says no repeatedly. It sets the requirement of clear communication up front, and it puts the onus on someone pursuing sex to receive clear communication that their advances are wanted rather than only requiring them to stop if they get a signal it isn’t. It requires and encourages equal agency for both partners.

read more: [Crimson] Revise the Policy


This is why we’re voting YES on referendum Q2

Referendum: Should Harvard College re-examine its sexual assault policies and practices?

Dear Students of Harvard College,


We call upon you to encourage Harvard College to re-examine its sexual assault policies and practices.

After increased attention to Title IX discrimination by the Office of Civil Rights, Harvard continued an internal investigation into its sexual assault policies until June of this year, when it determined it would not change its grievance process. Despite this decision, we believe that the incidence of two stranger rapes on campus, the struggle of a Harvard University employee to seek recompense after being sxually harassed in the workplace, and the large-scale adoption of more progressive policies by its peer institutions should steer the college in a direction where it critically evaluates current procedures.

“Rape culture” describes a society in which sexual violence is trivialized and survivors of sexual assault are blamed for speaking out. Such attitudes create a campus climate that is harmful to both the safety and the agency of its students. Our Harvard can do better. We believe that in order to prioritize the well-being of the student body, the college should re-examine its sexual assault policies and practices to reflect the values and needs of its students, by considering the following changes:

  • Reframing the sexual assault policy to reflect affirmative consent
  • Releasing confidentially each incidence of sexual assault and the relevant actions taken by the administration as per the Federal Clery Act, based on the resolution agreement between Yale and the Office of Civil Rights
  • Specifying the “mental incapacitation” phrase to more clearly determine the point at which someone is unable to consent under the influence
  • Using language inclusive of LGBTQ-identifying students
  • Setting a length of time the administrative board may take to address a sexual assault grievance to ensure accountability of the grievance process
  • Increasing the number of staff members and the amount of funding allotted to the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention (OSAPR)
  • Offering comprehensive and inclusive sex education for all students of all years
  • Actively engaging student voices in addressing these changes

Students who signed the petition below agree that Harvard College should re-examine its sexual assault policies and practices:

Sign here

[Crimson] Sexual Assault Referendum Makes UC Ballot

By Michelle Denise L. Ferreol, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

When students vote for Undergraduate Council president this fall, they can also cast a vote calling on Harvard to revise its policies for handling sexual assault.

Thanks to an online petition that garnered the 670 signatures required by the Council to create a ballot question, voters may indicate their approval of a long list of changes to Harvard’s practices.

The referendum calls for Harvard to endorse the concept of “affirmative consent” to sex, more clearly define “mental incapacitation” that renders a person unable to consent, adopt BGLTQ-inclusive language in its assault policies, and increase the transparency of the case review process.

Kate Sim ’14, who created the successful petition along with Pearl Bhatnagar ’14, described the referendum as “a signal of our agency as students in claiming our mental and physical safety on campus.”

Launched early Thursday morning, the petition garnered more than 300 undergraduate signatures in its first 12 hours online and achieved the 670-signature target Friday evening.

Bhatnagar said that the response indicates broad student interest in changing sexual assault policies, and UC Student Initiatives Committee Chair Nicholas W. Galat ’13 added that the upcoming vote will reinforce that.

“Taking this issue to a referendum will give the UC a more credible stance on what the students want and will allow us to directly say that we do speak for the students,” Galat said.

The last time the University made substantial changes to its sexual assault policies was in 2003. After two stranger rapes—the first in 12 years—were reported at Harvard over the summer, and a former Amherst College student made waves nationwide by publishing an essay on the school’s insensitive response to her rape, Bhatnagar said Harvard should be reconsidering those policies now.

“In light of the recent reviews that our peer institutions have pursued, this is a chance for Harvard to improve upon the safety mechanisms that it already has in place for its students,” she said.

read more