Current Date: Sat, 08 Mar 2014 08:44:04 -0500
When sophomore Landen Gambill made the decision to press charges against her rapist through the University Honor Court in the spring of 2012, she assumed the process would be easy.
Armed with what she said were pages of convincing evidence that proved the guilt of her accused student-attacker, Gambill thought she was just a hearing away from getting the justice she deserved.
She had endured months of sexual abuse from a long-term boyfriend.
But she said not even that abuse could have prepared for her for the kind she suffered during the University’s handling of her sexual assault case — a process she said was fraught with a clear violation of her rights that left her psychologically damaged and her ex-boyfriend innocent.
Now, one year since she pressed charges, Gambill said she is finally getting the justice she deserves — but not through the Honor Court.
On Wednesday, Gambill, along with four others, submitted a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education, claiming that UNC violated the rights of sexual assault victims and facilitated a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault.
“I’m filing because I don’t want anyone else to have to experience what I did because of the negligence of the University and their failure to acknowledge the importance of survivors’ needs,” Gambill said.
Junior Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, who graduated from UNC in 2011, spearheaded the complaint. In addition to Gambill, it was also signed by a female student, who asked to remain anonymous in The Daily Tar Heel for safety reasons, and former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning.
Manning stepped down in December after 11 years in her position, much of which she spent serving as an ally for sexual assault victims.
She served as a member of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault and was one of three creators of the HAVEN program, which aims to educate UNC on interpersonal violence.
She said she joined the complaint because she wanted to do the right thing — even if it cost her personally.
“My original plan was just to walk away and forget about everything that’s happened,” Manning said in an email. “But I love Carolina too much to do that. I can’t assume that someone else will fix these problems without my input.”
The 34-page complaint — submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights — claims that UNC violated multiple federal laws: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Though the list is extensive, the laws are similar and guarantee that a university cannot discriminate based on sex or disability, and guarantee that employees who oppose such discrimination cannot be retaliated against.
The complaint is rich with stories of hostility, including the administration’s failure to train Honor Court members who facilitated sexual assault hearings, to treat both the accused and accusing student fairly and to keep survivors informed.
The complaint also accuses UNC of violating the Clery Act and its Federal Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, which requires universities to provide victims certain basic rights.
While filed against the entire University, the complaint specifically targets specific administrative offices, including the Dean of Students Office, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, the Equal Opportunity/ADA Office and University Counsel.
Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls said in a statement that the University has not been contacted by the Department of Education regarding the complaint but said UNC provides support for victims.
“We do take the issue of sexual assault seriously and have worked hard to respond to allegations of sexual misconduct with a process that is fair, effective and provides appropriate support and due process to both the accuser and the accused,” Sauls said.
But Pino said she’s seen lies and false promises from administrators.
“They’re covering things up, and they’ve been doing it for a while,” she said.
Clark said it was the hostile culture she experienced from administrators that prompted her to file a complaint.
“When I went to report my assault in 2007, I asked an administrator what the process would look like,” Clark said. “Instead, that person told me, ‘Rape is like a football game, Annie. If you look back on the game, and you’re the quarterback and you’re in charge, is there anything that you would have done differently in that situation?’”
Clark said it was then she realized the system needed to change.
“We fought so hard to change things, but I’ve realized that the same stuff that was happening back in 2007 has still been in happening in 2011, 2012, 2013.”
Gambill said this mistreatment has continued even in 2013 — with the most recent violation of her rights occurring just two weeks ago.
After her trial last year, Gambill said her accused attacker voluntarily withdrew from UNC. She said Sauls promised that if the student returned, Sauls would tell her and ensure the student lived as far from her as possible.
In January, Gambill said her parents called Sauls to check in — only to find that her accused attacker was returning to campus and would be living in the residence hall across the street from hers.
“It betrayed my trust and it’s put my safety in danger,” Gambill said. “If my parents hadn’t called, I would’ve shown up this semester and seen my rapist walking around campus.”
Pino said Sauls’ negligence in informing Gambill is a blatant violation of Title IX. She said Sauls’ actions deprived Gambill of a safe environment and as a result, violated her equal opportunity to education.
In an effort to begin remedying the injustices experienced by the 65 sexual assault survivors that Pino has met at UNC, she and Clark created a petition Wednesday asking that UNC take action against sexual violence and hostility.
Clark said she is confident that the complaint and the petition will spark large-scale change at UNC.
In the last four years, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has received more than 120 complaints relating to sexual violence and launched 11 investigations.
Clark said she is confident the office will investigate UNC and will discover what she says is inappropriate behavior from administrators.
“They’d be crazy not to launch an investigation,” she said. “I would be extremely shocked if they didn’t.”
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