The Feds Will Investigate How Sexual Assaults Are Handled at UNC-Chapel Hill

After a group of women filed suit against UNC alleging its policies regarding sexual assaults on campus violated their rights, the U.S. Department of Education is looking into it

Less than two weeks ago, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill sophomore Landen Gambill went public with the news that she was facing expulsion for reporting her rape through the college's judicial system, the Honor Court. The reason? According the university, by making the complaint she created an intimidating environment for the man who allegedly raped her, thus violating the UNC honor code, even though Gambill never revealed his name publicly.

Dissatisfied with UNC's policies regarding on-campus sexual assaults, Gambill, along with fellow UNC alumnae Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, and former dean Melanie Manning, filed a discrimination complaint with the Department of Education against the school, claiming the university improperly handled sexual assault cases on campus, thus violating the rights of the victims.

Well, these women’s voices are being heard.

The U.S. Department of Education has agreed to have their Office of Civil Rights (OCR) investigate the case. OCR is considered a neutral fact-finder whose purpose is to collect and analyze relevant evidence to determine if the complaint indeed has merit. If it does, OCR will ask UNC to negotiate a voluntary resolution agreement with the complainants. If UNC declines, the case could go all the way to the Department of Justice.

A spokesperson for UNC says that they had not seen the complaint, but take the issue of sexual assault seriously. Just this week, campus officials brought in a well-known consultant on sexual misconduct, Gina Smith, to work with students and start "a campus conversation on the issue."

Although the university has said that it would cooperate with the investigation, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp also said in a statement, “The accusation that the University has retaliated against a student for filing a complaint is totally and completely false. Administrators have no authority over how charges are made in individual Honor Court cases.”

Meanwhile, the women’s group, Survivors and Allies for Empowerment and Reform (SAFER), continues to raise awareness about gender-based violence and have led several rallies on campus, most recently on Friday, March 1.

Whatever happens next, kudos to these women for refusing to remain silent.

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