As a Carolina student, I have been closely following the recent sexual assault scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill and was appalled to see this status update from Landen Gambill, a survivor of rape and one of the students who filed a formal complaint against the university, circulating on Facebook.
As a woman who has repeatedly been told (including at CTOPS, or new student orientation at Carolina) that in the case of rape I should not be afraid to report sexual assault to the authorities, that I would be believed, and that I would be viewed as an innocent victim, I was incredibly disappointed to read that Gambill was told that just stating that she had been raped was a potential honor code violation.
Rather than being helped by the authorities, Gambill said that her attempt to press charges against her verbally and sexually abusive ex-boyfriend through UNC’s Honor Court was an experience that left her feeling blamed and not believed. Her activism to revolutionize university procedures in handling sexual assault has landed her with an Honor Court violation case of her own – being accused with intimidating her yet unnamed ex-boyfriend by stating that she was raped. UNC administrators’ decision to pose Gambill as an antagonist towards her rapist rather than a victim is ironic in the worst way and unacceptable.
It’s a sad fact of life that every college student knows someone who has been sexually assaulted in some way. I am no exception, with some of my closest friends having gone through sexual assault and the following legal and emotional turmoil. In addition, like many UNC students, I am aware of women who have been sexually assaulted but have not reported their rape to the authorities at UNC due to their insufficient and hurtful sexual assault procedures. Women have told me that they fear the potential of their name being dragged through the mud through an Honor Court case more than any threat of potential danger. The university’s treatment of Gambill will certainly not encourage hesitant victims to speak up.
I remember receiving a booklet of statistics on safety at UNC and in the Chapel Hill area when I first accepted my admission to UNC. I was eager to read the statistics as I had been told that Chapel Hill was a safe area to live and students felt at home there. When I read the sexual assault statistics, however, I was surprised to read that during 2009 only one rape had occurred. I was skeptical that on a campus with over 17,000 undergraduate students and 4,000 graduate students only one rape had occurred in a calendar year. I realized that either statistics were being underreported or victims of rape were not reporting it themselves.
Part of the initial complaint filed by Gambill along with other students and Melinda Manning, former associate dean of students states that the university underreported the number of sex offenses that occurred, telling Manning that the number was “too high” and that she should keep it to a minimum. UNC responded to these allegations by stating that far from underreporting, they included an additional count from other sources in their final number.
“So the facts are these: the office of university counsel reported every single sex offense that Melinda Manning sent to us plus seven additional sex offenses that we gathered through our outreach through other offices like campus police and Chapel Hill police,” said Leslie Strohm, UNC’s vice chancellor and general counsel.
Accurate statistics are, of course, important. However, the more important thing that the complaint targets is the fact that even the highest number reported would not include all rapes that actually occurred on campus or to Carolina students – only those that were reported.
The university’s sexual assault procedures are lacking because they do not encourage victims of rape to come forward and fight sexual assault by reporting the crime. Rather than taking sexual assault seriously and actually working towards a safer community and a place victims feel comfortable coming to for help, university officials are attempting to sweep this scandal under the rug for the sake of the university’s image.
I love my school. I am proud to be a Tarheel, and I hate when Carolina’s name is in the news for something negative. But this is not a situation in which administrators should be able to silence activists for sexual assault procedure reform like Landen Gambill. Rape is a serious crime, and the fact that victims do not feel comfortable enough to come forward and report it to the university due to their faulty sexual assault procedures means something needs to be done.
This is not an area where we should keep it quiet and hope the scandal goes away. Until the administrators hear the voice of the people, it is essential to be as loud as possible until justice is done and the university is changed for the better.
I have always been impressed with my fellow Carolina students’ dedication to social justice. I have no doubt that as Gambill continues to fight for the rights of rape victims, her fellow Tarheel students will stand behind her. I am one of them.
In addition, talk to people who make a difference. Let the administrators of the university know that you stand with Landen and that you support her right to free speech.
Chancellor Holden Thorpe: email@example.com
Dean of Students, Jonathan Sauls: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Winston Crisp: email@example.com
President, University of North Carolina, Thomas W. Ross: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also keep updated on what’s going on by liking the We Stand with Landen Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/StandWithLanden