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.
A 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 one–being 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.