Landen Gambill, who alleged publicly that she was raped on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus, filed a complaint Monday and that the school has threatened her with expulsion for that declaration.
Attorney Clay Turner sent a letter Monday to UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp, advising the school of the complaint that his client, Landen Gambill, filed with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education. The letter also asks Thorp to dismiss charges filed in the school's honor-code court against Gambill..."In speaking out for change at UNC, Ms. Gambill is not 'harassing' or 'intimidating' her abuser, whom she has never named," Turner wrote. "Rather, the university's decision to press charges against Ms. Gambill has tragically provided her abuser with the opportunity to harass and intimidate her" despite a no-contact order issued against him last May.
Gambill is the latest student to file suit against the school, UNC-Chapel Hill drew national attention in January when alumna Annie Clark said that a campus official used a football metaphor to respond to her claim that she was raped in 2007.
"I asked an administrator what the process would look like," Clark told university paper The Daily Tarheel in January. "Instead, that person told me, 'Rape is like a football game, Annie. If you look back on the game, and you're the quarterback and you're in charge, is there anything that you would have done differently in that situation?'"
The cringe-worthy comment is part of the hostile campus culture that Clark, along with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, claims in a complaint filed against UNC-Chapel Hill. Three current UNC-Chapel Hill students and a former assistant dean of the school have joined Clark in the suit, alleging that campus authorities disregard the needs of sexual assault victims and re-traumatize survivors.
Prior to being profiled in the New York Times, Clark and her co-complainant Andrea Pino, discussed their goals on March 16's Melissa Harris-Perry.
"We hope to hold certain administrators accountable at UNC and change policies, and make sure that we have implemented best practices," said Clark. "But, since coming forward, this has become much bigger than about a singular issue campaign. We've started to connect universities and notice trends and patterns that have happened nationwide."
While the complaint has shined a bright light on the issue of campus rape at one school, those trends and patterns have long been hiding in plain sight throughout America's institutions of higher learning.
One in five college women will be the target of sexual assault, according to an estimate from the Department of Justice.
A 2010 investigative report from NPR and the Center for Public Integrity found that that statistic is indicative of a failure on the part of both academic and government institutions to take seriously their responsibility to the safety of students. Campus disciplinary processes bypass the criminal justice system (which has it’s own spotty record on violent assaults against women), offering few legal protections to those who come forward.
There is no due process, no subpoena power, no evidence. Decisions are often handed down by panels of students and administrators who are poorly trained in how to engage a survivor of sexual assault.
Pino reported her assault to UNC-Chapel Hill after it happened a year ago.
“I noticed that our policies weren't very survivor friendly and they were not very clear for what the procedures were for really coming forward and finding support,” she said. “I was hearing dozens of stories a week and I realized that my story was only one of many. I was telling all these administrators my concerns and really wasn't met with any sort of answers.”
Even when the accused are found guilty of rape, they are seldom expelled from the school. More often, it’s the survivor of sexual assault who ends up leaving the school to avoid running into their assailant. It’s an outcome that stigmatizes victims and discourages women from reporting rape.
"Oftentimes we're being told that our story is one of a kind, it's our fault, that we could have prevented it," Pino said. "We hope that not only with our complaint but with coming forward and sharing our stories that we let other survivors know that they're not alone, that it’s not their fault.”
There are already existing legal protections for sexual assault survivors at colleges and universities. Title IX and another law known as The Clery Act require schools to have clear and comprehensive policies in place to respond to sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking. But many women are unaware of their rights, and schools have fallen short of that standard.
A new law to complement Title IX and update The Clery Act—named after 19-year-old Jeanne Ann Clery, who was raped and murdered in a university dorm in 1986—was a point of contention in the yearlong congressional tug of war over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act—or SaVE Act—was included in the Senate version of VAWA to set new provisions for how colleges and universities handle sexual assaults. First introduced by Senator Bob Casey in 2010, the SaVe Act amends The Clery Act.
The new law, which was ultimately reauthorized, ensures that survivors of a sexual assault on campus be made aware of their right to notify local law enforcement and their options to be relocated away from their attacker. Institutions would also need to establish an equitable and clear process for disciplinary action. It also requires schools to be proactive about rape prevention with education and awareness programming for students and staff.
For more of the conversation from the March 16 Melissa Harris-Perry, see below.