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Feminspire | April 20, 2014

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Believe Survivors: Why Universities Need to Take a Stand Against Sexual Assault

Believe Survivors: Why Universities Need to Take a Stand Against Sexual Assault

From the first days of orientation, I have been met with the sight of informational posters explaining what to do if you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault.

They’re everywhere. Mostly in women’s bathrooms and at least one on every floor of a  building. I’m sure they’re in men’s bathrooms, too. They’re posted in each dorm room or suite. They tell us, whether we’re victims or know someone who is a victim, to report their attacker as soon as possible, that any names will remain anonymous, that the university will do everything in its power to help sexual assault and rape victims.

However, in the last few months, these “informational” fliers have become a joke. I tell all of my friends that if something should happen, to never ever go to the Honor Court. Instead, go straight to the police. Not the campus police. The actual police. I tell my friends this because I don’t want them to suffer the same injustices that many of my fellow students are speaking out against.

I am currently a first year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We’re known for our intense school pride, proud sporting of the true Carolina blue,  stellar academics, and nail-biting sports. In the past few months, UNC has experienced an intense burst of national fame and it has nothing to do with basketball player James McAdoo. I’m talking about sexual assault.

Last December, Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning stepped down from her position after 11 years at Carolina. She spent years fighting for sexual assault victims, and says that her work was, “emotionally and psychologically” difficult. She cites her desire to spend more time with family as her reason for departure, but it has been suggested that she was forced to resign after speaking out against school officials who purposefully underreported sexual assault cases. In January, Manning and four other women (current and former UNC students) filed a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Education. The story exploded after The Daily Tar Heel published this article, which received backlash from those who filed the complaint saying that the details published were “potentially harmful for [their] case.”

Daily Tar HeelOne of the women who filed the complaint is sophomore Landen Gambill. Since January, Gambill has made her story publically known. She was raped by her former boyfriend and eventually reported the abuse to the UNC Honor Court. As of August 2012, sexual assault is no longer in the Honor Court’s jurisdiction, but Gambill filed earlier that year and presented mounds of evidence that damned her abuser.

Somehow, he was found not guilty.

For the 2012-2013 school year, he somehow was placed in the dorm directly across from Gambill’s without her ever being informed by school officials. But this, all of this, was somehow hushed up. The campus only truly became informed of the situation after the DTH published its initial report. Then, in February, the situation got worse: Gambill, after speaking out against the university and her attacker, was slapped with an honor code violation. By telling her story and not naming her rapist, she somehow created a hostile environment for him on campus and was involved with “disruptive or intimidating behavior.”

The entire campus reaction: outrage.

As it very well should be.

Even though students run the Honor Court, they do have ties with university officials. The university claims that it cannot be held responsible for any violation Gambill is accused of, but I, and many others, believe that it should hold some accountability. How is it that a group of untrained, unqualified students are able to decide the fate of a fellow student without any input from the university?

For the past few months, I’ve closely followed this story. I honestly thought the university was helping victims, and that justice was always served. My naivety was shattered, but now I, too, am speaking out against sexual assault. Victim blaming needs to stop everywhere, not just at UNC. Officials need to be held accountable for what they’ve done. Policies need to be enforced. Absolutely NO university Honor Court should ever touch any sexual assault case – they should immediately be handed over to the police.

UNC Chapel Hill

All of this talking, all of this discussion about sexual assault, has made it a huge part of campus life. Everywhere I walk, I see ‘intimidate rapists’ and ‘believe survivors’ plastered on walls and buildings. Our chancellor sent the entire student body, faculty, and staff an e-mail discussing his intention to fully cooperate with, and even welcome, a federal investigation. More than one federal government office is involved in the investigation into the sexual assault policies and practices that UNC has followed for years.

This is just a small step, but hopefully it will lead to bigger things. I have confidence that the government and UNC will take measures to ensure that this victim blaming will stop and justice will be served. These survivors have been through so much, and their bravery and strength has helped bring a dishonorable practice to light. I have confidence that the student body, myself included, will continue to rally for sexual assault victims. I have confidence that I will no longer feel unsafe walking back from a late night study session in the library, confidence that the university would support me should something (God forbid) ever happen to me.

With this confidence, and a bit of determination, we can see and make change happen across all college campuses.

UPDATE: As of March 27, Gambill’s hearing is suspended. Chancellor Thorp finally decided to take administrative action and put a halt to the hearing. Its completely outrageous that he let it go on this far, but hopefully he’ll continue to show some support to Gambill and the other victims.

Written by Kiana Fekette

All photos taken by Kiana Fekette for Feminspire.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/etienne.dufour.33 Etienne Dufour

    how do you know he his really guilty? o right, you are a sexisr bitch

    • MadamBelladonna

      Excuse the fuck outta me?? Did you know that over one in four women are raped in college? Did you know that 1 in 3 out of all women will be raped in her lifetime? Did you know that less than 3% of rapists spend a single day in jail? Did you know you’re a misogynist dick wipe that has no business in civilized society?

      You are part of the problem. It is people like YOU that make women the objects of ridicule when they admit to being raped or assaulted. It is always, always, always her fault, or she’s lying, or she slept with him and then regretted it. Never once have I heard someone put the blame where it belongs. I know many women that have experienced horrific rapes and I have been the only one that they say believed them. I myself was sexually abused for 5 or 6 years as a child. I know from experience how it feels to have someone tell you you’re a “cheap, used whore” for getting molested at the age of 6. A friend of mine was raped in high school and her own mother told her she was a slut and to shut her mouth. Take the recent case in Stuebenville: the victim was cast out by her entire town and even received death threats because a group of football players gang raped her and took video footage of themselves laughing about it later.

      It’s people like YOU that sit and joke about rape, making into the “acceptable” practice it is today. It’s people like YOU that make rape so difficult to prosecute because everyone’s minds are set on “she was asking for it.” It’s people like YOU that think it’s okay to make sexist and derogatory statements about a woman you don’t even know whose only crime was to stand out against sexual assault.

      Is the guy in this story guilty? I don’t know. I wasn’t there and I haven’t heard the evidence. Is it possible that she’s making it all up to get at him? Sure. Possible, but highly unlikely. Again, point to the “3%” statistic. Do you HONESTLY believe that 97% of women are LYING???? What kind of dumb shit would that make you??? It is rare that women lie about it because they know damn good and well what kind of treatment they’ll get if they dare to utter “I was raped.”

      Do everyone a favor and jump off a cliff. No one needs the tired old argument of “she was asking for it” or “she’s lying for attention” or “she just wants to ruin his life” and, least of all, “Oh poor HIM, his life is ruined now or he’s at least going to get some negative attention. Poor, poor HIM.” It’s certified bullshit, and I for one am sick to death of it.

      • MadamBelladonna

        And ask any woman how many times she’s been smacked on the ass by a stranger while walking down the street, how many times she’s been followed home, how many times a group of strange guys have called out obscenities to her when she’s alone, how many times she’s had her ass or tits commented on by a stranger, how many times she’s been propositioned by a stranger….

        I’m sick of people’s attitudes that “Well, she really wanted it, deep down.” “She needs to get over it, it was just a compliment…” “She’s such a whore, she wasn’t raped.” “He’s only mean because he likes her, why can’t she see that?”

        I don’t believe I know a single woman over the age of twelve that has not had at least one of the above happen to her. It is absolutely ludicrous that people think this is acceptable behavior.

        Since when did “Nice tits babe” become an acceptable thing to say to a stranger? Since when is it okay to ask a stranger that’s going about their daily business if they wanna fuck? Normal? Sadly, yes. Acceptable??? Hell to the FUCK NO.

        You want to compliment a woman? Tell her she looks beautiful and move on. You want to get to know her? Respectfully ask for a date and don’t press it if she says no. You want to have sex with someone? Find a willing partner on Craigslist if you’re that desperate. You wanna dominate someone? Go out for wrestling.

    • Kylee Mattoon

      2-8% of rape accusations are false. People are more likely lie about their care being stolen than lie about being raped. Have you ever met someone who has lied about their car being stolen? I haven’t.

      http://msmagazine.com/blog/2011/04/07/do-women-lie-about-rape/

  • MadamBelladonna
  • Kiana

    You can find statistics on several governmental websites, including the FBI and CDC. Here’s a few links/articles for more information.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/11/09/cbsnews_investigates/main5590118.shtml?tag=contentMain;contentBody

    http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_factsheet-a.pdf

    http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf

    The 1 in 3 women are raped statistic comes from this last CDC report in which it states that more than 1 in 3 women have faced rape, sexual assault,violence, etc. by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

    • brookstyle

      thanks…interesting as almost that many men have faced violence by their partner. My ex gf told me she was raped twice which is terrible.

      Having been the recipient of complaints from my adolescent female students, I admit to having a jaundiced eye re/ male on female assaults. These girls know society places a premium on their sexuality and protects it. I am still trying to heal from the experiences. I am not trying to make light of the issue of rape. I suppose when one confronts such threatening behavior as a rape or sexual assault, it is usually going to burn a hole in a part of the brain and heart. My mother told me I was sexually assaulted as a four year old. My parents, didn’t over react, and luckily I have absolutely no memory of the incident.

      • Kiana

        I really do feel bad for teachers. They are placed under such scrutiny and while they may have the best intentions, parents and kids can be absolutely cruel. And you’re absolutely correct – men do face abuse but its just not as often publicized because it goes against the stereotypical male image.

  • Kiana

    Also, it states that about 27% of women (slightly less than 1/3) have experienced unwanted sexual contact in their lifetime.