by Maayan Schechter – Opinion Editor – firstname.lastname@example.org
Victims of rape and sexual assault who choose to go public with their stories are heroic, yet UNC Chapel Hill chose to take steps toward silencing a student victim.
Landen Gambill, a sophomore at UNC, faces expulsion because a student-run “Honor Court” claims Gambill used intimidating and disruptive behavior toward her ex-boyfriend who she alleges raped and sexually assaulted her.
Former UNC assistant dean of students Melina Manning, and four other students including Gambill filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights alleging university officials chose to ignore and underreport rape cases – a serious university violation.
Initially, Gambill filed a sexual-assault charge against her ex-boyfriend last spring through student government. The Honor Court found the ex-boyfriend not guilty, only temporarily suspending him and giving a letter of discipline according to comments made by Gambill in The Daily Tarheel.
Gambill received an email from the Honor Court, a court which determines whether or not a student violated the honor code, charging her with violation for intimidation toward her ex-boyfriend. She could now face a grade penalty, or even expulsion.
Gambill told media outlets when she found she could face expulsion, she was shocked and mentioned she never used her ex-boyfriend’s name publicly. She only wanted to talk about how the university mishandled victims of rape.
Unfortunately, we still live in a society which views rape and sexual assault victims as not just mere victims of violence, but somehow, instead try to figure out reasons why a perpetrator would choose to rape.
UNC Asheville only reported three forcible sexual offenses on campus from 2009-2011, and no non-forcible sexual offenses were recorded in those three years, according to UNCA public safety and crime reports. However, just because sexual offenses report at such a low number does not mean sexual offenses actually occur at a low rate.
The Justice Department estimates fewer than 5 percent of rapes in college are reported to law enforcement officials as opposed to the general population, where about 40 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to police. A majority of cases of rape and sexual assault are between a victim and assailant who know each other, according to the National Institute of Justice.
On a national level, universities must abide by the “Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act,” otherwise known as the Jeanne Cleary Act, which requires colleges to participate in federal financial aid programs to publicly disclose statistics about on-campus crime.
If the numbers of rape and sexual assaults are so underreported, the federal government may want to reexamine the Cleary Act this act as the cause of such low numbers. Students may feel more comfortable going to campus police, health counselors or treatment centers with rape and sexual assault if they are aware students actually report it.
In order to combat rape and sexual assault, as a society and student body, we must not silence victims such as Gambill. Colleges and universities must create a safe environment in which students feel protected and comfortable.
To find out how to receive help if sexually assaulted or raped, check out UNCA’s Health and Counseling link.