The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday February 26th

Column: The DTH is fighting for more than records

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Editor-in-chief Jane Wester

Just before Thanksgiving, this newspaper sued UNC for the release of public records for cases in which someone was found responsible for sexual assault.

When we asked the University for these records in September, I wrote a column about why we wanted to take on this fight. All those reasons are still true.

But this isn’t an ordinary story, or even an ordinary lawsuit.

As an editor, I believe in open records and celebrate the fact that The Daily Tar Heel is independent and therefore capable of suing UNC. As a woman, well — try to find one of us who hasn’t been groped, catcalled or harassed. Try to navigate a college dance floor when it is routinely assumed you do not have the privilege to control who touches you. Try to find a woman whose life would not be markedly improved by even — as Andrea Dworkin wrote — a 24-hour truce in which there is no rape.

We are committing money and time to this lawsuit, and we’ve already made sexual assault a focus of our investigative reporting. We will never give up on this issue because we don’t leave it behind when we leave work.

The issue of sexual assault on college campuses is far from theoretical. It is real, painfully real; it is holding friends while they cry and watching personalities change and not assigning stories to reporters anymore because people are drained, because we do not get a break from this issue.

And even though campus sexual assault gets a ton of attention, RAINN reports that women ages 18 to 24 who aren’t enrolled in college are at an even higher risk. We’re pursuing the campus angle because this is a college town, but our coverage isn’t the end of the story.

Indeed, when we get the records, that will only be the beginning of more investigative reporting. Part of why we want the names of people UNC has found responsible is so that we can talk to them and understand the adjudication process from their side, too.

Statistics differ on how prevalent sexual assault is. I’m confident that the number of survivors I’ve met in three-and-a-half years of college is higher than it should be.

We’re pressing the University to tell us more about whether and how these cases are resolved. Personally, all I know is that “he was punished” isn’t a phrase I hear often, or at all.

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.

The threat and reality of sexual assault should not be so routine. It isn't extreme to ask for basic safety.

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