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Harvard creates office to handle sex assault, harassment claims

BOSTON (Reuters) - Harvard University said on Wednesday it had created an office to investigate all claims of sexual harassment or sex assault, a move that comes as campus sex crimes are receiving greater scrutiny across the United States.

Harvard's new investigating body will use a "preponderance of evidence" standard to determine whether sexual assault or harassment occurred in the cases it reviews. That is a lower standard of proof than its current approach.

"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," said Drew Faust, president of the Ivy League university in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The policy will apply to harassment based on gender identity or sexual orientation, also covering gay, lesbian and transgender students. The office will be open in the academic year that begins in September.

The White House has declared sex crimes to be "epidemic" on U.S. college campuses, with one in five students falling victim to sex assault during their college years.

The U.S. Department of Education in May released a list of 55 colleges under investigation to determine if their handling of sex assaults and harassment violated federal laws put in place to ensure equal treatment in higher education.

Harvard College and Harvard Law School were on that list, as were a range of other prestigious U.S. universities including the University of California at Berkeley and two other Ivy League schools: Dartmouth College and Princeton University.

Harvard said it had sent a copy of its new policy to the Department of Education for review but had not yet received a response.

(Reporting by Scott Malone)

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