Landen Gambill speaking at a rally

University of North Carolina student could be expelled for “intimidating” her rapist by talking about her assault

Landen Gambill speaking at a rally

Landen Gambill speaking at a rally

Alexandra has written before about this ongoing saga at the University of North Carolina. Student survivors and a former assistant dean, who says the administration urged her to intentionally under-report cases of sexual assault, have filed a Title IX lawsuit accusing UNC of mishandling their cases and violating their rights. The heart of complaint is that the school “facilitated a hostile environment” for students reporting sexual assault.

Just how hostile? Well, let UNC really drive it home for you…Now, one of the students involved in the lawsuit could be expelled because she spoke out about her assault. Landen Gambill has repeatedly told her story of enduring sexual abuse and harassment from her ex-boyfriend because, she says, “I don’t want anyone else to have to experience what I did.” Last week, she was called to appear before the school’s “Honor Court” because she’s charged with “disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another…so as to adversely affect their academic pursuits, opportunities for University employment, participation in University-sponsored extracurricular activities, or opportunities to benefit from other aspects of University Life.”

Although you can put me down as someone who thinks that “disparaging” someone who sexually and verbally abused you is generally a-okay, it’s worth noting that Gambill has not once publicly identified her attacker. She has, however, called out the school for their failures in dealing with her case. She’s said that the internal disciplinary process was offensive, inappropriate, and victim-blaming. “They made it seem like my assault was completely my fault.” She’s accused UNC of betraying her trust by not letting her know that her attacker was returning to campus and in fact would be living across the street from her.

At a preliminary hearing, Gambill asked if she could have violated the Honor Code simply by saying she was raped and was told yes. 

UNC spokeswoman dismissed the idea that the school is retaliating against Gambill for speaking out, saying administrators have nothing to do with the Honor Court. Maybe, but I hardly think it matters either way. Whether the school is directly involved or not, this is one more example of how they’ve “facilitated a hostile environment” for students reporting sexual assault. The message UNC students will take from this–if they haven’t gotten it already–is to think twice about coming forward. Because their school seems to think that–just as being seen as having a rape problem on your campus is considered worse than actually having onebeing called a rapist is a more serious injury than being raped.

Or maybe UNC just thinks they’re equally bad. The UNC spokeswoman went on to say that the school “is committed to providing policies and procedures that are fair for everyone, especially about an issue that is as difficult and often involves strong opinions on both sides like sexual assault.” Which is a kinda weird way to frame sexual assault, right? I mean, talk about taking “fair and balanced” too far. Consent is not actually very difficult and sexual assault is not a matter of opinion. And while it often involves one person who says they were sexually assaulted and another who does not like being accused of sexual assault, fairness doesn’t require “both sides” to be treated equally in the court of public opinion.

Frankly, when the “he said, she said” dilemma already helps make it all but impossible to legally prosecute and convict rape cases, “disparaging” perpetrators is really one of the only ways available to fight back. Taking even that power away by claiming that talking about your rape violates your rapist’s “right” to not be called a rapist is a pretty neat way of ensuring that rape culture is perpetuated. He said and she…shut up.

Image via.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation

  • smash

    Thank you so much for reporting on this.

  • smash

    Is there anything we can do to help? I have been tweeting about this using #standwithlanden

  • Kalen T

    Likewise, thank you for bringing this to attention.

    Additionally, if anyone has the means or time, I highly recommend doing a take-down of Alexander Baron’s Op-ed “A Straight Look at the ‘Rape’ of Landen Gambill”. He’s got all sorts of victim-blaming and misconceptions about abusive relationships and rape. You know, since he’s such an expert on these topics.

  • Jay

    There are two major problems with this article:
    1) She did identify her alleged abuser by referring to him as her “long-time boyfriend.” Those who are mutual acquaintances – and many others by now – know who this individual is.
    2) She did not file criminal charges and only elected to use the university’s judicial proceedings. When that resulted in her ex-boyfriend being found not-guilty, she went on to publicly refer to him as a rapist. To clarify your statement, being raped is FAR worse than being called a rapist and I have not heard anyone speaking on behalf of the university say otherwise. However, the only judicial proceeding that was instigated found her boyfriend NOT GUILTY. So how is the court of public opinion justified in reaching its opinion with only facts provided by one side?

    • Laura

      Jay, in response to your second point, I think it would be unwise to trust the findings of the university proceedings in light of the lawsuit being filed stating that those exact proceedings are in violation of Title IX. Besides that, universities are rather notorious for strong-arming students into going through the school’s system rather than going to the police (though I admit I don’t know UNC’s own track record on that).

    • Jemma Howitzer

      He was found “not guilty”. That does not mean he was found innocent. It means that there was an insufficient amount of evidence to legally convict him. The courts have not proved his innocence. Public opinion exists, that’s just the way it is. Do you call people out when they say that OJ simpsons probably did it, even tho the courts found him not guilty? No, because that’s silly, and people are allowed to disagree with courts.

      Anyways, “public opinion” isn’t that scary. He’ll probably end up just fine in a few months, and anyways, his history of sexual allegations should be made public for potential suitors.

      It doesn’t really matter what the university courts say. University courts aren’t infallible, especially UNC’s.

  • Emma Cohen

    This gives me a gut ache.

    It reminds me of how much the procedural system had deteriorated at Carleton when we had the major paradigm shift uproar crisis back in ’09. There was certainly some of this reputation protection going on more subtly. And yet wow, I feel so grateful that we didn’t have whatever Honor Code-Court/shut down veiled as Honor thing they have going on at UNC — the explicit references to predator/perpetrator and his MO repeatedly came up in our student media. I would scream/throw up/fall over if all that truth telling had gotten turned around against us who survived that person & our allies.

    It bears repeating that early responders have the ability to traumatize survivors x2, and they have the responsibility to like not do that.

    & the last two paragraphs you have going on there are fierce good analysis, Maya. A+

  • Felix

    This all should have gone through the criminal justice system. If we don’t want to be treated as second-class citizens, why settle for a second-class “court”. The school doesn’t have the resources to investigate properly. I had a housemate accused of rape once, which supposedly happened while I was in the next room. It was not true. The accuser reported it to the police who truly investigated it while putting my housemate in jail. But it turned out she was cheating on her boyfriend and lied to protect herself, giving no thought to the fact that my housemate could have served serious prison time. False accusations DO happen, and a professional criminal justice system will recognize that either party could be lying. We need to trust the justice system to handle it; if they fail, we need to bring that to light and fix it as an entire community. This campus as a separate world, unaccountable, insulated, like at Penn State, is certainly no good. The ability to influence and appeal the actions on campus are inferior to using the power of the state.