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University of North Carolina Sexual Assault Scandal Raises Questions About Colleges' Policies

March 8, 2013

Although research suggests that a quarter of college women will become the victims of sexual violence during the course of their education, very few cases actually make it to law enforcement's attention. The federal government's announcement this week that it will investigate complaints that a North Carolina university mishandled complaints of campus-based sexual assaults may be a sign that the traditional culture of silence surrounding rape on campus may be showing cracks.

USA Today reports that the U.S. Education Department will investigate a discrimination complaint charging that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill failed to respond properly to sexual assault cases on its campus. A letter from the Department's Office for Civil Rights notes that the decision to investigate "in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regards to the merits of the complaint." The university says it will cooperate fully with the investigation.

According to The Huffington Post, five women filed the complaint in January, stating that UNC fails to provide assault victims with adequate resources or impartial hearings and investigations. They also claim the university pressured plaintiff and former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning to underreport campus-based sexual violence cases. UNC has denied Manning's allegations and hired a consultant and former prosecutor to help reform its sexual assault reporting policies.

Another woman named in the complaint is Landen Gambill, the UNC sophomore who, according to The Washington Post, made national headlines last week after the institution threatened to expel her for "intimidating" her alleged rapist. Gambill reported her rape to the UNC Honor Court last spring, but the court questioned its merit because she did not immediately leave her boyfriend and because she was clinically depressed -- a point Gambill said was directly related to her abusive relationship. After the court dismissed her case, Gambill went public with her story, which led to the university charging her with an honor code violation. The incident inspired days of student demonstrations and, ultimately, the federal complaint.

College rape -- and the underreporting of it -- is a growing problem in the United States. According to The Washington Post, the University of Montana was recently investigated for allegedly failing to protect sexual assault victims, and Princeton University has come under fire for not publishing a survey that indicated nearly one-third of its female students had been assaulted in some way. A 2010 report from the Department of Justice found that one in four college women will be victims of rape before they graduate, and campuses with more than 6,000 students "average one rape per day during the school year." Yet fewer than five percent of these cases are reported to law enforcement by colleges.

That may be changing. Yesterday President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act into law. The Washington Post reports that the act includes a new piece of legislation called the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, which requires colleges to report all cases of dating violence, sexual assault or stalking in their annual crime statistics. Institutions are also required to provide victims with awareness programs and support services. Whether the new law will impact how colleges investigate and report sexual violence cases on their campuses remains to be seen.


Compiled by Aimee Hosler

Sources:

"Feds to investigate UNC sexual assault cases," usatoday.com, March 7, 2013, Mary Beth Marklein

"UNC Sexual Assault Response To Be Investigated By U.S. Department Of Education," huffingtonpost.com, March 6, 2013, Tyler Kingkade

"Wishing rape on campus away won't make it so," washingtonpost.com, March 6, 2013, Aly Neel

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