- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) Harvard University will soon require eyewitnesses, physical evidence and other independent proof before it investigates sexual-assault charges.

The new rule, approved unanimously by the faculty on Tuesday, raises the standard of proof necessary for students to file rape and assault charges in the university's campus judiciary system.

University officials said the change will speed up the complaint process and prevent the school from getting caught up in lengthy "he said-she said" cases, where the truth is hard to determine.

The new system will take effect in the fall.

Currently, sexual-assault charges at Harvard and many other schools automatically trigger a closed-door review by a judiciary panel. In most cases, there are no lawyers present, and the accused doesn't have an opportunity to confront the purported victim.

Critics say procedure violates students' due-process rights and rarely leads to a clear resolution.

Under the new system, if no "sufficient corroboration" is presented at the outset, officials will be able to dismiss the case and refer students to an outside district attorney or to a new process of "confidential mediation."

That alternative also was approved Tuesday.

"We believe that it is fairer to students to decline a case up front than to subject them all to a more intrusive process that may take months and often leaves them dissatisfied and frustrated," David Fithian, assistant dean, told the Boston Globe newspaper.

But Harvard sophomore Sarah B. Levit-Shore, leader of the campus Coalition Against Sexual Violence, told the Globe, "To throw your hands up in the face of a student who complains about a rape is a scary thing for the student body."

In 2000 and 2001, seven sexual-misconduct cases were handled at Harvard, each taking two to four months to complete.

Two ended with a conclusion that there were no grounds for action.

Four, involving alcohol, resulted in no decision.

A seventh resulted in the accused student being asked to withdraw temporarily from the university.

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