Federal complaint claims UNC-CH violated assault victims' rights

glloyd@newsobserver.comJanuary 18, 2013 

— Students and a former UNC-Chapel Hill administrator have filed a federal complaint that claims the university violated the rights of sexual-assault victims and broke the law.

Three current students, one former student and a former assistant dean of students signed the complaint, which alleges a hostile university culture that violated sexual-assault victims’ rights to an education. The students say they are sexual-assault victims and that the university mishandled their cases by not believing or supporting them or by accusing them of being at fault in their attacks.

Current student Andrea Pino and former student Annie Clark are the primary writers of the complaint but declined to give a copy to The News & Observer. They said they did not agree to the publication of specific details reported by the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, which obtained a copy of the allegations. Copies of federal complaints are typically not public record until after they are closed.

In the DTH, former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning, who was in charge of compiling rape statistics to comply with the Clery Act, said the Office of University Counsel told her the numbers she reported were “too high” and needed to be changed. When Manning saw the official published numbers, the list included three fewer incidents than she had submitted, according to the student newspaper. Manning resigned in December after working for the university for 11 years.

In an interview Friday, Pino said she has “seen the hostility (from UNC-CH) firsthand.”

Pino said she and Clark, who graduated from UNC-CH in 2011 and now lives in Oregon, initiated the action and asked Manning to join. They filed the complaint, Pino said, after seeing that sexual- ssault victims continue to face the same issues Clark faced when she was assaulted as a freshman six years ago. Manning was the one exception to that “hostile” atmosphere, Pino said, and supported students who had been assaulted.

Assault victims worry they will not be believed, Pino said. Actions taken by administrators and the university’s Honor Court often reinforce that, discouraging students from coming forward in the first place, she added.

When Clark tried to report her assault in 2007, Pino said, a university administrator compared the rape to a football game and asked her to look back and see what she could have done differently.

Honor Court case

The Daily Tar Heel reported that complaint co-signer Landen Gambill was raped by an ex-boyfriend and took the case to the Honor Court, where students with little training in such cases accused her of making it up.

The court violated the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act when a student member gave Gambill’s private testimony to her parents without her permission, Pino said. The students on the Honor Court told Gambill that they did not believe her story of rape because she had tried to kill herself in the past, Pino said. Efforts to reach Gambill for comment on Friday were unsuccessful.

The university’s official policy on reporting sexual assault by another student states that victims should file a report as soon as possible after the incident with either the student complaint coordinator in the office of the Dean of Students or the Equal Opportunity/Americans with Disabilities Act Office. According to the policy, a law enforcement agency’s decision whether to prosecute a crime is independent of the university’s investigation into the assault.

Before filing the complaint Wednesday, Pino had met 65 sexual-assault survivors at UNC-CH, she said. Since filing the complaint, she said she has heard from a dozen more, in incidents dating back a decade, all of whom felt they had no support from the university or its Honor Court. She also heard from professors who have witnessed the hostility toward students who come forward as victims, she said.

“I have yet to meet a person who has gotten justice,” she said. “This is about the culture at Carolina, and I believe in my university. I’m doing this because I care about Carolina.”

Petition started

A Change.org petition posted by a group formed in the wake of the allegations, Students and Allies for Educational Reform (SAFER), calls on the university to address the allegations in the complaint. It had more than 800 signatures Friday afternoon.

Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, said the office is evaluating the complaint to decide whether to investigate. Evaluations typically take a month.

Pino said the students allege the university violated parts of both Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 as well as the Clery Act, which require colleges and university to report assaults.

Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp referred all questions to university spokeswoman Karen Moon, who provided a statement from Crisp that responds on behalf of Sauls, vice chancellor and general counsel Leslie Strohm and assistant university counsel Kara Simmons.

In his statement, Crisp said he cannot respond to the complaint because he has not yet received a copy of it from the Office for Civil Rights.

“Even after we receive the complaint, we are obligated to respond to it through the proper legal channels,” Crisp wrote. “In the meantime, though, I want to assure you that the University takes the issue of sexual assault very seriously, and we are all working together to make sure that our process for handling these cases is fair, effective and supportive.”

Lloyd: 919-932-2008

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