Students to rally for student who spoke out about rape

Feb. 28, 2013 @ 06:16 PM

Students and others at UNC will rally at 1 p.m., on campus today at the South Building to support Landen Gambill, a UNC sophomore charged by the school’s Honor Court with creating an “intimidating” environment for her alleged rapist, a former boyfriend and fellow UNC student.

Gambill was charged last Friday with a conduct violation alleging she engaged in disruptive or intimidating behavior against her accused rapist, ostensibly for talking publicly about the alleged rape, although she has not named him.

Her supporters are calling on the Honor Court’s student attorney generals and administrative advisers to immediately drop the charges against Gambill.

The charge by the Honor Court, which reviews allegations of misconduct to determine if the school’s Honor Code has been violated, has set off a firestorm of negative attention for UNC, which is still reeling from academic and athletics scandals.

Gambill said in a news release announcing the rally that UNC appears more worried about its image than students who have been sexually assaulted. The university has emphasized that no university official initiated the action.

“It’s a big example of how this university sees survivors as a threat and [how it] sees the appearance of having a sexual assault problem as worse than actually having a sexual assault problem,” Gambill said.

Gambill could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday, but others associated with the rally said they believe the charge is retaliatory in nature and sends a chilling message to rape survivors.

“If you talk about rape and talk about your experience you are going to get in trouble,” said Andrea Pino, a 21-year-old junior from Miami who said she was raped a year ago this month.

Because of all of the media attention, UNC took the unusual step this week of issuing a press release denying the university played any role in the charges brought against Gambill by the Honor Court.

“No student has ever been disciplined for reporting a sexual assault or any Honor Code violation,” the statement said. “Further, no university administrator filed or encouraged the filing of charges in this case; there is no retaliation by the university.”

As of last summer, the 25-member student-led Honor Court no longer hears cases involving allegations of rape as a result of complaints from students and a  “Dear Colleague” letter from the U.S. Department of Education. The letter reminded universities of their responsibilities for handling sexual assault cases and advised them to review their policies.

Gambill filed a sexual assault charge against her ex-boyfriend during spring semester of 2012. The Honor Court found him not guilty during a process in which Gambill said she was treated poorly and asked inappropriate questions.

But before that, Gambill obtained a “no contact” order against the ex-boyfriend from the dean of students. He was suspended but returned to campus this semester and moved into a dorm across the street from her.

Gambill’s decision to not pursue the rape case in a traditional court is surprising to some following the case.

Pino said women on campus are generally reluctant to report sexual assault because usually no one is around to witness it. It becomes a case against her word against the alleged attacker.

And in the past, when assault victims were offered the option of pursuing the case through the Honor Court instead of through the Police Department and traditional courts, it seemed like a less intimidating option.

 “When you are offered an option to go through a less public process, it seems like a good option,” Pino said. “These are felonies that should not be dealt with by universities. When you feel safe at first and it seems like you have a good case, it seems like a good option.” 

Both Gambill and Pino have joined one other UNC student, one former student and former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning in filing a complaint against the university with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

They allege the university violated the rights of sexual assault victims and created a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault.

Manning also has accused university officials of pressuring 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 officials vigorously denied the charge during a Board of Trustees meeting in January. Officials contend the report, in fact, contained more incidents of sexual violence than Manning submitted for the report.

UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp has hired 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.

He said in the university’s statement Tuesday that the university community “cares deeply” about both students involved in the case.

“If we are to achieve the ultimate goal of eliminating sexual assault and violence from this campus, we must all work together,” Thorp said.

Meanwhile, a petition urging Thorp and the UNC Board of Trustees to take a stand against a culture of sexual violence and hostility at UNC has gained more than 5,000 supporters, fueled in part by Gambill’s assertions.

Survivors and Allies for Empowerment and Reform (SAFER), a group formed to educate the public about gender-based violence, started the petition, which asks UNC officials to improve campus policies its members believe are harmful to sexual assault and rape survivors.