Year in Review: Sexual assault at UNC
On Nov. 21 The Daily Tar Heel and three other news organizations filed a lawsuit against the University to release the records of students convicted of sexual assault.
The Daily Tar Heel requested the records on Sept. 30 and set an Oct. 28 deadline for receiving them from UNC. UNC denied the request, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as a reason for keeping the names private.
“Carolina has a profound responsibility to protect and vigorously defend the privacy of sexual assault victims and all students, including witnesses, who may be involved in a campus Title IX process,” Joel Curran, vice chancellor of communications and public affairs, said in a statement released in reaction to the lawsuit.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said in an October interview while FERPA does protect a student’s right to privacy, there is an exception for confidentiality if a student has committed a crime.
“Congress made the decision to carve out that set of records where there is an overriding public right to know,” he said. “If we kept those things confidential, then a person could be living in the dorms right up the hall from a serial rapist and not even know it, so there’s a compelling public safety purpose in disclosing those records.”
Hugh Stevens, the lawyer representing The Daily Tar Heel, said this is why The Daily Tar Heel and other organizations decided to sue the University.
“Basically, in our view, the public records law in North Carolina requires the information must be released,” he said. “There are cases, some of them under FERPA, where federal law basically overrides the rule of state law, but in this instance, FERPA specifically says that schools may release this kind of information.”
Survivors of sexual assault said they also see a need for transparency from the University. R., a survivor of sexual assault who wishes to remain anonymous, went through the Title IX adjudication process, which took almost a year.
“It completely takes away your sense of control over your life,” she said in September. “Which is just a really horrible feeling.”
She said, in a different October interview, seeing the name of her assailant in the paper or in some public format would hold him accountable.
“I think that it would make me feel like my time spent going through the investigation process was actually worthwhile,” R. said.
R. is not the only student who said she had problems with the University’s two-year-old sexual assault policy and the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office.
On Sept. 13, UNC sophomore Delaney Robinson said she was raped in Ram Village on Feb. 14, 2016.
Robinson and her lawyer, Denise Branch of the Raleigh firm Stuart Law, sought self-sworn warrants for two misdemeanor charges against UNC football player Allen Artis — misdemeanor assault on a female and misdemeanor sexual battery.
“This police force is not capable of properly investigating a sexual assault case to appropriate resolution,” Branch said in a September press conference. “There were so many missteps that took place throughout this investigation.”
Artis was suspended from the football team on Sept. 13 and turned himself in to the Orange County Sheriff’s office on Sept. 14. UNC athletics spokesperson Kevin Best said University policy is to indefinitely suspend any players charged with misdemeanors.
Artis, who said he did not commit sexual assault, appeared in court on Sept. 29 to determine his next court date.
“Although we did not start this, and I’m not blaming this on Ms. Robinson at all, the way this has turned out, Mr. Artis cannot possibly get a fair hearing in the Title IX process,” Kerry Sutton, Artis’s lawyer, said in September. “There is not a person in Orange County, in Chapel Hill, at UNC who's not familiar with this firestorm that has been created.”
Artis’s next court date was delayed in December and has yet to be rescheduled.
Jane Wester, editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel, published a column on Dec. 6 explaining why the continued coverage of sexual assault and lawsuit is important.
"We take survivors’ privacy seriously. We take sexual assault seriously. I want UNC to handle these cases as well as possible, and I want transparency so the DTH can make sure they do that," she said.