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Harvard University Overhauls Sexual Assault Investigation Policies

CAMBRIDGE — Harvard University announced plans Wednesday to implement new procedures to prevent and investigate sexual harassment and assault.

Harvard’s first university-wide policy will be structured around a centralized office with trained civil rights investigators to review reports of sexual harassment, including sexual violence and gender-based complaints. Previously, Harvard’s policies varied throughout its schools and did not involve experts in its investigations.

“From the beginning, the working group wanted to create a new policy and procedures that apply and bring clarity to every member of the Harvard community, that would meet the University’s legal obligations, and that would enable us to investigate reports more effectively,” Mia Karvonides, Harvard’s first Title IX officer who aims to ensure the university complies with federal law banning gender discrimination, said in a statement. “I’m confident we accomplished all those goals.”

In May, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of colleges under investigation for their handling of sexual assault complaints. Harvard’s undergraduate college, its law school, and five other Massachusetts schools were included in the list.

Harvard says they submitted their new policy to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for review in April, and decided to implement it before receiving a response in order for the procedures to go into effect for the upcoming academic year.

“This new, progressive policy — alongside the new, centralized procedures for investigating reports — will significantly enhance Harvard’s ability to address these incidents when they occur,” Harvard President Drew Faust said in a statement. “Separately, the prevention-focused task force has already begun recommending approaches that will increase access to services for those who have experienced sexual misconduct and, ultimately, will help us better understand how to prevent incidents before they occur.”

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