“This is not about me”
More than 250 supporters gathered at UNC’s South Building on Friday in support of Landen Gambill, the UNC student who says she’s being charged with an Honor Code violation for speaking out about being allegedly raped by an ex-boyfriend.
Many in the crowd undoubtedly came to hear Gambill talk about the alleged rape and UNC’s handling of the allegation, which has garnered national and international attention.
But the sophomore from Mooresville said that she preferred to shift the focus to the larger problem of sexual assault on campus and the reformation of universities policies regarding rape victims she contends are unjust.
Gambill has not named her ex-boyfriend.
“I don’t want to spend much time talking about me, because it’s so important that everyone realize that this is not about me,” Gambill said. “I have been treated with great injustice, but there are so many others who’ve been treated just as poorly as I have, or even worse.”
The rally, and Gambill’s desire to talk less about her alleged sexual assault and more about the broader problem of sexual assault, comes a day after an attorney for the ex-boyfriend gave The Daily Tar Heel an interview to clear up what he called inaccuracies in Gambill’s story.
In an interview Friday with The Herald-Sun, John Gresham, an attorney at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, hammered home the fact that his client was found not guilty of sexual misconduct in a 5-0 vote by a university hearing board that included one administrator, two faculty members and two students.
“This was not some student court,” Gresham said.
He said the panel spent 20 hours over two days hearing the evidence before rendering its decision.
“This was not something taken lightly by the university,” Gresham said.
Furthermore, Gresham said Gambill had the option to appeal the panel’s decision, but did not do so.
“There was an appeals process Ms. Gambill could have exercised, but did not,” Gresham said.
Responding to a reporter’s question Friday, Gambill bristled at the notion that the hearing board’s verdict negated her claim of rape.
“Just because an ill-informed panel of people who were ignorant about these issues says he was not guilty, doesn’t mean that what happened to me didn’t actually happen,” Gambill said.
And she responded sternly when told by a reporter that there are those who say it’s time that she moved on.
“You can’t just tell me to move on,” Gambill said. “No one has walked in my shoes. So, I think that’s a really hurtful and ignorant statement.”
Because of all of the media attention, UNC issued a press release denying that the university played any role in the charge brought against Gambill by the student attorney general.
“No student has ever been disciplined for reporting a sexual assault or any Honor Code violation,” the university’s statement said. “Further, no university administrator filed or encouraged the filing of charges in this case; there is no retaliation by the university.”
The student-led Honor Court stopped hearing cases involving sexual assault last summer due to complaints from students and the university’s response to 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.
Gresham noted that his client and Gambill stopped seeing each other in November 2011. It wasn’t until February 2012 that Gambill filed a complaint against him, the lawyer said.
He didn’t rule out the possibility of client dropping the complaint if Gambill stops accusing him of rape.
“We‘re not at that point yet,” Gresham said. “There is no immediate prospect, but whether there’s a chance down the line, it’s too early to say.”
Gambill was joined on the steps of the university’s administration building by about 50 students and others who carried signs supporting her.
Some wore plastic whistles around their necks that one speaker said “represents the importance of whistleblowers in our community.”
Several women told personal stories involving sexual assault. UNC’s student body president-elect Christy Lambden told the crowd that he is ready to “fight for change” when it comes to the university’s handling of sexual assaults.
“It is unacceptable that a student like [Gambill] feels unsupported and let down by the system,” Lambden said.
Gambill and two other UNC students, one former student and former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning joined 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 alleges that 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 that the report, in fact, contained more incidents of sexual violence than Manning submitted.
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.