University Of North Carolina Routinely Violates Sexual Assault Survivor Rights, Students Claim

UNC Faces Discrimination Complaint From Sexual Assault Survivors

On March 10, 2012, Andrea Pino says she was raped at an off-campus party. She wasn't drunk and was only there to look after a friend, but because she suffered a concussion during the assault, she says she doesn't remember much beyond a hazy walk from the party back to her dorm room.

"I just woke up in my bed covered in blood and not knowing what happened," said Pino, now a junior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Today she still doesn't know who he was.

She says she's suffered depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but when she applied for medical withdrawal from her classes, Pino said the Academic Advising office told her she was "being lazy." Over the next several months, Pino heard similar tales from more than 60 other sexual assault survivors at UNC.

On Wednesday, Pino and UNC alumna Annie Clark, supported by fellow UNC student Landen Gambill -- all sexual assault survivors -- filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights on behalf of themselves and those 64 other victims, whose names are being kept confidential. Their complaint alleges UNC violated assault survivors' rights under the Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights, the Clery Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and equal opportunity mandates under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

They claim that UNC often acts as though no assault has taken place, protecting alleged rapists while victimizing students and disenfranchising assault survivor advocates.

Jonathan Sauls, dean of students at UNC-Chapel Hill, said they could not comment directly on any of the students' allegations because they have not yet been contacted by the U.S. Department of Education.

"We do take the issue of sexual assault seriously and have worked hard to respond to allegations of sexual misconduct with a process that is fair, effective and provides appropriate support and due process to both the accuser and the accused," Sauls said.

The university's treatment of sexual assault victims is among the reasons that UNC Associate Dean of Students Melinda Manning tendered her resignation last month. Manning told The Huffington Post that victims have been asked inappropriate questions or have been blamed for the incident. In one of the cases, she said, "it was judged because they had past consensual sex with that individual," there was consent and therefore no assault. She believes many students who sought help from the university wished that they had never done so.

"It's absolutely heartbreaking," Manning said. "Our job is to help these students, not hurt them."

When Clark tried to get help, she says a counselor told her, "Rape is like football, and you're the quarterback; when you look back on a game, Annie, how would you have done things differently?"

Gambill says she went to the Dean of Students Office to report an abusive ex-boyfriend for stalking in March 2012. She filed a complaint with the university's Honor Court system in the hopes that it'd be faster and less complicated than the legal system. But when the trial came in May, Gambill said the students and faculty on the Honor Court were focused on why she hadn't done anything to stop the alleged abuse. Gambill recounted one female student on the Honor Court who said that as a woman, she would have broken up with the alleged abuser after the first incident.

"I expected that I would be believed and trusted, and that they wouldn't doubt my story and try to devaluate my story," Gambill said.

Gambill hadn't told her parents the "horrific and disturbing" truth, but she claims her student Honor Court representative did so without permission. While Gambill testified at her trial, she says her student rep gave her parents a confidential document she had written, which was intended to be used only as evidence in the Honor Court. "When I found out he had given it to them, I asked him why," Gambill said, recounting her outrage. She said that the student rep told her that he "thought they should know."

"It strained the relationship with my parents," Gambill said. "It definitely made their healing process more difficult."

Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, said that the rep's actions would appear to be a clear violation of FERPA, a law meant to protect personal student records.

"This is one of the reasons ... law enforcement and the adjudication of rape cases in general does not lend itself to amateurs," Goldstein said.

Goldstein doesn't believe universities should evaluate allegations of sexual assault at all, but should simply provide counseling and support to victims. "They aren't good at determining when it happens, and when they do, they don't handle it well," Goldstein said.

In the best-case scenario, an alleged rapist will still be walking the streets after a university issues disciplinary action in the case of a sexual assault, Goldstein said, whereas, in the legal system, the same result is usually the worst-case scenario.

Tim Longest, a UNC senior who's worked with the student government in various capacities, said the current system is "defensive toward perpetrators and discounts victims."

UNC recently stopped using the Honor Court system to handle sexual assaults, but Longest said that he's spoken to many victims who are confused about the recourses available to them. That confusion, he said, "perpetuates a culture of silence."

Clark said the complaint is intended to improve not only UNC, which she says the complainants still love, but to instigate broader changes nationwide.

"I want this case at UNC to affect policies that are in effect at Oregon," Clark said. "You hear about Amherst, then it dies down; you hear about Yale, then it dies down. We're tired of it just popping up and everyone saying it's really horrible and then nothing happens."

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text "loveis" to 77054 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.

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