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Finding justice for assault takes tougher approach
Colleges are hurt when their students get raped.
Actually, that’s not completely accurate. Colleges are hurt when people hear about their students getting raped.
Every year, colleges try to sell themselves to parents as good investments that will get their kids the cushy job and not put them in harms way. For this reason, colleges must exude not only an environment of education, but one of safety.
Unfortunately, rape cases get murky and nasty quickly and easily. Convictions are difficult and traumatic, so sometimes universities take the opposite track, making reporting a rape so difficult that victims keep their mouth shut. This brings us to the University of North Carolina.
After reporting her rape to UNC’s honor court last spring and seeing her alleged attacker found not guilty, UNC sophomore Landen Gambill was unsatisfied with the way the court handled the case and, along with four others, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Gambill was charged with a violation of UNC’s honor code in January by her alleged attacker, who claims that Gambill going public with her accusations creates an intimidating environment for him. The alleged attacker’s name is still not public knowledge.
For clarification, UNC’s honor code is intended to prevent students from “lying, cheating and stealing,” according to its website. The words “assault” and “rape” do not appear anywhere in the document, and the term “sexual misconduct” appears once in an unrelated context. The school’s honor court is a group of undergraduate students who enforce the honor code.
So basically, Gambill reported her rape to a bunch of undergrads who are meant to oversee an entirely different set of violations, and after she went around them to authorities who have, you know, authority, her alleged attacker filed a complaint with the same group of undergrads. Gambill could face expulsion for the charge.
For some reason, this seems to be the procedure for reporting rape at UNC. Gambill was joined in her complaint by four others, two of whom were alumni who’d experienced similar problems and one of whom was former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning. Manning had stepped down from her position a month earlier over UNC’s treatment of sexual assault victims.
Obviously this process is being abused, but what bothers me is that when Gambill reported the crime through UNC, she sent it through channels that had a vested interest in making sure the incident didn’t become a big deal. Did she have to do this? Is there some sort of special jurisdiction for rapes on UNC such that trials must take place in school courts, and the most severe penalty is expulsion?
Rape is a federal offense. If you’re going to report it, it might be a good idea to tell the feds. Otherwise, you might face an institution like UNC trying to sweep your assault under the rug.
Joshua Knopp is a pre-journalism sophomore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.