Attacking sexual assault

Feb. 09, 2013 @ 03:27 PM


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus is awash in serious discussions over sexual assault.

It is a vital discussion.

The current surge of attention to the subject at Chapel Hill stemmed from a complaint to the U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.  Melinda Manning, a former assistant dean of students, and four students or former students assert the university under-reports incidents of sexual assault and handles cases that are reported poorly.

The university vigorously denies those charges, and as always in these situations it’s best to avoid a rush to judgment on the substance of the complaint.

Nonetheless, it is clear from campus dialogue since the complaint became public that it is an issue on the minds of many students and faculty. “We are alarmed by claims that certain administrative offices and individuals at the University have knowingly or unknowingly violated assault survivors’ rights through complacency, lack of proper education or training, and/or intentional intimidation,” a faculty group said in a letter to The Daily Tar Heel.

UNC is far from alone in struggling with this issue.

The American Association of University Women’s website labels sexual assault on campus the “silent epidemic.” “Sexual assault remains the most drastically underreported crime,” the website says, asserting that “95 percent of attacks are unreported.”

The AAUW website offers these other statistics:

-- 3 percent of college women nationally have experienced rape or attempted rape during the academic year. This means, for example, that a campus with 6,000 female students will have an average of one rape per day during the school year.

-- 13 percent of women are stalked during the academic year, and each stalking episode lasts an average of 60 days.

-- 90 percent of women know the person who sexually assaulted or raped them.

-- 75 percent of the time, the offender, the victim, or both have been drinking.

The university administration has responded, if belatedly, retaining a nationally recognized consultant to help it analyze the problem and formulate its response. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp has named a student complaint coordinator. 

“Without you, the faculty, staff and administration, this doesn’t change,” the consultant, Gina Smith, said at an initial meeting on campus last week. 

We might wish some of these measures had been taken sooner, and we hope it is true that, as Chancellor Holden Thorp said, they are “just the very beginning of what we will do in the coming weeks on this.”

Clearly, there is much to be done.