Protecting Child Safety at All Levels of Society

UNC Chapel Hill must support those who report sexual assault

Here in Chapel Hill we are dealing with the shocking news that a woman who reported her sexual assault complaint through the UNC Honor Court is now facing “an Honor Court trial herself, accused of ‘intimidating behavior’ against a fellow student she says raped her.” Now she could potentially face a range of punishments, up to and including expulsion.

I am so angry about this. I was in a coffee house this morning in line with a lot of UNC students and I wanted to jump up on a cafe table and tell them that they deserve so much better than this. I just cannot believe that sophomore Landen Gambill, who followed direction from the Dean of Students office to not go to the police while pursuing an honor court trial, is now being dragged into the Honor Court, facing a violation for speaking out. Gambill says was treated poorly by the Honor Court during the trial against her attacker, whom she has never even publicly named. Understandably, she feels that the new Honor Court charges are retaliation against her original speaking out, and joining a Federal complaint against the University:

Last month, Gambill joined with two other students, a former student and a former assistant dean of students to lodge the federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The complaint accuses the university of violating the rights of sexual assault victims and of creating a hostile climate that denies victims the right to an education.

The University says that the Honor Court is run by students so the administration cannot intervene. I believe that is wrong for several reasons:

Sexual assault never should have been under the jurisdiction of a student-run Honor Court in the first place. Sexual assault is a crime that should be handled by the police. In the News & Observer coverage this morning they reported on the matter being in the hands of an “undergraduate attorney general” which is absolutely ludicrous.

Students are technically adults, but they are just getting used to being adults and have seriously limited life experience and maturity to draw upon. I have written about this issue before, talking about too much responsibility being put on student Resident Counselors, who find they have to deal with serious mental health problems and relationship issues that are way out of their league, with little ability to compel their peers to get professional help. This issue with the Honor Court feels similar.

Landen Gambill certainly felt that the Honor Court let her down with her original complaint, not only finding her alleged attacker not guilty, but that on the Honor Court, students with little training in such cases accused her of making it up.

In fact, since Gambill’s sexual assault case went before the student court last year, the university has rewritten its policies about such cases. Now, sexual assault cases are no longer heard by the student court. Across the nation, universities and colleges are revamping policies to comply with anti-discrimination law under a recent directive from the federal government.

This was a good move on the University’s part but they have more work to do. They must step in to support Landen Gambill. It is so difficult in our culture to report domestic violence or sexual assault. People who do report their problems should be supported, not punished. Talk about an “intimidating environment.”

And, whistleblowers who point out problems in the way the system is operating should be supported as well. The University of North Carolina needs to step up, put the professional adults in charge, and stop this travesty of the student Honor Court from persecuting Landen Gambill.

Here is the latest statement from UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, on a forum Campus Conversation on Sexual Assault. For the record, I think that Chancellor Thorp is a good person, and I hope he is able to do this right thing in this situation. I am not sure how they will get there from here at this point, but I will continue to follow the story.


University website: Sexual Assault Policy – Actions taken at UNC

News Coverage:

Raleigh News & Observer, “Student who spoke out on UNC conduct is now accused.” February 26, 2013

Raleigh News & Observer, “Federal complaint claims UNC-CH violated assault victims’ rights.” January 18, 2013

The Daily Tar Heel, “Landen Gambill says Honor Court charge is retaliatory.” February 27, 2013

This story is receiving national and international coverage, including:

Jezebel, “College Rape Survivor Faces Potential Expulsion For ‘Intimidating’ Her Rapist”

Huffington Post, “UNC Sexual Assault Survivor Faces Honor Code Violation After Speaking Publicly About Abuse”

New York Daily News, “College student could be expelled for reporting her rape and creating an ‘intimidating environment’ for her alleged rapist.”

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