The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Graig Meyer is the state representative for House District 50, covering portions of Orange and Durham counties. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After hearing about recent events that have left female students feeling unsafe on and near campus, I am reminded of an event I attended in 2016. A group of students, who are the survivors of campus sexual assault, and their allies invited me to an event at UNC where survival stories were shared with campus leaders. It was powerful and humbling to listen to the stories that were shared. The immediate trauma of sexual assault saddened me, but the enduring mental and emotional damage was what really made me feel anger.
I was also struck by the fact that the survivors of sexual assault have to carry much of the burden for making the response system work. They have to choose to see a doctor, they have to proactively file a report, they often have to initiate contact with authorities if they want to get any update on what’s happening in their case. All the while, they are sharing space on campus with their perpetrator.
Colleges and universities have an obligation under Title IX to provide equal access to education regardless of gender. When institutions of higher education fail to adequately respond to sexual assault, it creates barriers to equal educational access.
The need for improved response is clear. In the 2017-18 school year, there were 27 formal allegations and 97 informal reports of sexual assault at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This is likely below the true incidence of sexual assault because sexual violence is underreported. Moreover, research indicates that many perpetrators of sexual assault are repeat offenders. Across North Carolina, institutional response to reports of sexual assault is too often inadequate, and the policies, processes and resources in place vary drastically from campus to campus.