Shall we cater to the victim or the accused?

By Sammie Hill —

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, victims of sexual assault have the option of reporting their claims to the police or to the student-run Honor Court. Last spring, UNC sophomore Landen Gambill took allegations of rape by her ex-boyfriend to the student-run Honor Court. Recently, she discovered that her actions following the alleged attack may result in her expulsion.

To be clear, the Honor Court found the man Gambill accused of sexual assault not guilty. Therefore, I can only refer to her allegations as just that — allegations. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and it is not my place to pass judgment about an event at which I was not present.

Despite the not-guilty verdict, Gambill chose to speak out about her alleged experiences and serve as a voice for victims of sexual assault. She never publicly named her alleged attacker.

Now, the UNC Honor Court is saying that she violated the Honor Code for reporting the rape and speaking out about sexual assault.

The court has asserted that by speaking out, Gambill is creating an intimidating environment for her ex-boyfriend, the man she accused of rape. I can understand where this claim is coming from, for although she never publicly named her alleged attacker, students around campus might be aware of who she has dated. Since it is public knowledge that the man she accused is her ex-boyfriend, anyone who knows who Gambill has dated could be able to deduce who she accused of sexual assault. This could easily make campus life uncomfortable for the exonerated man, perhaps creating an environment in which he is met with hateful looks, accusatory comments, etc. No one should be demonized for a crime he or she did not commit.

However, does this mean that no student is allowed to speak out against sexual assault if it may make the perpetrator uncomfortable?

Gambill herself stated, “The last thing I expected was not just to be revictimized and retraumatized by all of this but to be accused for speaking out solely on the basis that I was making this campus uncomfortable for rapists.”

Whose feelings take precedence in matters like these? Those of the victim of a crime or of the perpetrator? At this point, I think it’s important to reiterate the fact that the court found Gambill’s accused rapist not guilty. However, if this concept applies to all students, could anyone be threatened with an Honor Code violation — warranting consequences such as suspension or even expulsion — for speaking publicly about something that might make another student feel uncomfortable?

Gambill also stated that the Honor Court could charge students with a violation just by reporting an instance of sexual assault.

“When I met with Graduate and Professional Schools Student Attorney General Elizabeth Ireland about the charge filed against me, I asked her if by saying I was raped, if I could be found in violation of the Honor Code,” Gambill told UNC’s student newspaper. “She responded by saying, ‘That sounds like a loaded question, but yes.’”

If that’s true, then anyone who reports a sexual assault committed by another student could be in violation of the Honor Code. This means that, under certain circumstances, the Honor Code would work as a way to protect the guilty, silence the victims, and deter students from reporting their traumatic experiences.

Gambill remains “shocked, afraid, and upset” at the charge of violating the Honor Code, which she feels is retaliatory for a complaint she filed last month to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against UNC. Gambill teamed with fellow student Andrea Pino, UNC alumnus Annie Clark, and former associate Dean of Students Melinda Manning to file this complaint that stated UNC handles sexual assault cases with negligence and insensitivity.

Pino and Clark are victims of campus sexual assault and believe that UNC mishandled their cases.

“When I was raped, I was met with an awful response,” Clark explained to the UNC student newspaper. “They blamed me for my experience.”

Manning, the former associate Dean of Students, revealed that she resigned from her job because she was instructed to underreport the number of sexual assaults that happened on campus.

Gambill believes that the complaint that contains the grievances of these women sparked the Honor Court’s desire to charge her with a violation.

Regardless of the reason for this Honor Code violation charge, students — men or women — should not be made to feel afraid to speak out in support of victims of violence due to the chance of being reprimanded by the university.

Most importantly, students should not feel they have to hide the fact that they have been assaulted for fear that it will break an Honor Code.

Every college campus should create an environment in which victims of assault of any sort can feel comfortable speaking out and telling the truth about what happened to them. And they should be met with courtesy and compassion, not controversy.

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