UNC denies underreporting sexual assaults

Jan. 24, 2013 @ 06:16 PM

UNC officials aggressively denied claims Thursday that the university underreported incidents of sexual violence on campus in 2010.

The allegation is at the center of a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights filed by former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning, three students and one former student.

According to reports in The Daily Tar Heel, which received a copy of the complaint, Manning has alleged that university officials tried to pressure her into lowering the number of reported offenses and claims there were three fewer cases reported in the Annual Campus Security Report than she originally submitted.

UNC’s General Counsel Leslie Strohm vigorously denied Manning’s charge and produced an email Manning wrote to Manning’s then-boss, Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls, showing that Manning submitted a total of 16 such incidents to include in the annual report.

Meanwhile, Strohm said the university reported 23 such incidents for 2010, seven more than Manning counted for the report, which universities are required to produce under the Clery Act.

“The allegations with respect to underreporting of sexual assault are false,” Strohm said. “They are untrue and they are just plain wrong.”

Strohm said the university has not received the complaint filed by Manning and the students, and acknowledged that it might contain additional “information or context” that has not yet been reported.    

Still, she was adamant that the university fully and accurately reported sex offenses for 2010.

 “We reported 43 percent more sex offenses than Melinda Manning provided to us,” Strohm said. “So, the facts are these; The Office of University Counsel reported every single sex offense that Melinda Manning sent to us, plus seven additional offenses that we gathered through our outreach to other offices such as Campus Police and Chapel Hill Police.”    

UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp announced that the university will hire Gina Smith, a nationally known consultant and expert on sexual assault, to review UNC’s reporting policy to make sure the university is using best policies and procedures.

“She is the right person to do this,” Thorp said. “Once this came up, I said we need someone to come in and help us with this.”

Thorp said he reached that decision after talking to Amherst College President Carolyn A. Martin who also hired Smith after a student’s account was published in the campus newspaper. The student said she had been raped by a fellow student and then treated badly by college officials after reporting the incident.

Wade Hargrove, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said the university is taking the allegations seriously and urged board members to not pass judgment until all the facts come out.

 “The board’s aware of allegations that the university has not been sufficiently sensitive to alleged incidents of sexual abuse on campus,” Hargrove said. “The board is not insensitive to these allegations and I want to assure everyone that the board takes the allegations quite seriously.”

According to the Daily Tar Heel, the complaint against UNC also alleges that the university violated the rights of sexual assault victims and created a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston Crisp said he welcomes the opportunity to present the facts, and noted that the university has been working for more than a year to “improve and overhaul” policies in the area of reporting sexual assault so that they are consistent with federal and state guidelines.

 “That work is ongoing and has included input from a wide variety of people including some of those behind this complaint,” Crisp said.