How to Not Be a Jerk to Alleged Sexual Assault Victims

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Say you are a college girl dating a college guy. This guy, though you may love him, is a jerk. More than a jerk. This guy sexually assaults you, verbally and physically abuses you. You break up with him, but he still stalks and harrasses you. Oh, and he lives across the street from you.

Not sure where to turn, you report his behavior to your college. Because student judicial boards are totally expert fact-finding bodies capable of dealing with sexual assault claims with professionalism and discretion, your college turns the judicial process over to the Honor Court, a board of your peers. Your college-aged, not professionally trained peers.

Instead of trying to find the truth of whether you were raped or not, your fellow 18-22 year olds are asking you questions such as: “…as a woman, I know that if that had happened to me, I would’ve broken up with him the first time it happened. Will you explain to me why you didn’t?” and bringing your personal history of depression as evidence of your untrustworthiness.

Regardless, you press your case. Not optimistic about the direction of the Honor Court, you begin raising awareness about the issue of sexual assault and abuse in your community. You talk to the media about your story and stories like yours, without ever revealing the name of your ex-boyfriend.

Now, after everything, after the assault, the victim-blaming and the failure of the Honor Court to do anything about your ex-boyfriend’s proximity to you, the university charges you with a violation of the Honor Code. This violation could lead to serious ramifications for your academic career, including expulsion.

Why? Because you dared to complain about the university screwing you over.

Sound like a nightmare? Well, it’s happening right now to Landen Gambill at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Landen is currently being charged under a Honor Code statute prohibiting

“Disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another… so as to adversely affect their academic pursuits, opportunities for university employment, participation in university-sponsored extracurricular activities, or opportunities to benefit from other aspects of University Life.”

With that in mind, I have a few questions for UNC Chapel Hill:

In what world is a body of college students adequate to deal with allegations of sexual assault?

How is it okay to punish someone for raising awareness to the fact that 25% of women are subjected to either rape or attempted rape during college?

What do you hope to accomplish by punishing Landen Gambill when approximately 95% of attempted or completed rapes aren’t reported to the police?

While I wait for my answers, I’ll take a stab at the issue myself.

UNC was trying to silence a student who was openly criticizing its policies and bringing bad press to the school. And whether she’s right or wrong in any of her allegations, Gambill’s speech is all protected under the First Amendment—you know, of the United States Constitution (which, by the way, UNC is bound to uphold).

UNC, if you were trying to protect your name, you failed hard. However, if you’re still looking to make a good spin off of this, allow me to make a suggestion.

Step off the woman who had the guts to say something and start taking responsibility for the hostile environment you’ve perpetuated by caring more about your good name than seeing justice served.

  • Robert Sanchez

    It seems that people are frothing at the mouth over this story despite not really understanding the facts of the situation.

    The broad strokes of the situation are this: She accused her ex-boyfriend of rape. The boyfriend was found not guilty by the school’s honor court. She didn’t like that decision and filed a lawsuit against the school. She continues to hold press conferences and publicly bang the drum over how “unjust” it all is. Her ex-boyfriend complained that she was creating an intimidating environment for him. A STUDENT AG filed honor charges against her in response to this.

    I see nothing inherently wrong with any of this. You had your hearing, and you lost. The next step is to go to the police with your accusation if you think you were wronged. The school owes you a hearing, but it doesn’t owe you a conviction. Accused students have rights too and due process must be followed. It’s really just about sour grapes at this point, and I think she’s enjoying the chance to publicly play the martyr.

    It should also be noted that Gambill is a Gender Studies major. You know, that “discipline” that encourages perpetual female victimhood? Just sayin’…

    • http://thoughtsonliberty.com/ Gina Luttrell

      It seems to me that you commented on the post without reading it.

      “And whether she’s right or wrong in any of her allegations, Gambill’s speech is all protected under the First Amendment—you know, of the United States Constitution (which, by the way, UNC is bound to uphold).”

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500314160 Elizabeth Thames Robinson

      My biggest complaint is with the process. Maybe she should have gone straight to the cops, instead of leaving it up to the university to deliver justice. But the school shouldn’t have had student-led boards adjudicating RAPE cases in the first place.

      • Robert Sanchez

        Maybe not.

        But it’s the duty of any effective judicial board is to ask tough questions and subject the accuser’s complaint to tests and challenges. I hear a lot of complaints about “insensitive” or “victim-blaming” questions, but it’s not meant to be a therapy session.

        In a he said/ she said case, cross examination is vital to a determination of the truth. The accused student doesn’t have the ability to cross examine his accuser, so the conduct board has to take up that role. It’s uncomfortable and possibly somewhat victim-blaming, but it has to be. Her story needs to be questioned and challenged, as uncomfortable as such a thing may be. Some questions will be uncomfortable, but that’s by design.

        • http://thoughtsonliberty.com/ Gina Luttrell

          So, how is “Why didn’t you leave him the first time he did this to you?” a valid question?

          • Robert Sanchez

            How is it not?

            It’s true that many abuse victims don’t leave at the first sign of trouble, but there needs to be some semblance of objectivity where each case is concerned.

            We can understand that most abuse victims don’t leave immediately, and we can understand the general reasons why that is true, but we still need to hear HER reasons for why SHE didn’t leave immediately. It’s relevant to the credibility of her accusation.

            It sounds like a blaming question, and it arguably is, but it’s the goal of the hearing board to ask any possibly relevant question. They have to remain objective and they have to approach the case with the idea that it may or may not be true. That’s the nature of due process.

          • http://thoughtsonliberty.com/ Gina Luttrell

            Actually, it’s pretty common for abuse victims to NEVER leave their abusers. Abuse is as much about psychological control as it is physical control. Why someone didn’t leave is not relevant at all to proving whether or not the abuser did it any more than asking someone why they didn’t fight back is relevant to a case in which someone is claiming to have been robbed.

            Either way, students shouldn’t be adjudicating sexual assault cases, IMO, and this student’s speech is still protected by the First Amendment. She should have been brought up on charges at all.

          • Robert Sanchez

            Fine, but the question is still clearly relevant. It’s usually self-evident why a robbery victim didn’t fight back (they have a gun pointed at them), but if that wasn’t the case, then such a question would clearly be relevant on cross.

            Regardless, I don’t disagree that students shouldn’t be adjudicating these cases. I would prefer that every such case be referred to the criminal justice system. The University is not in a position to protect the rights of either party involved in such a case.

            That said, if you think the questions asked at the honor court hearing were insensitive and invasive, you should hear some of the questions a defense attorney might ask. The nature of our adversarial process necessitates some degree of insensitivity. When an accused person’s life and liberty are at stake, insensitivity and invasiveness are necessary to a fair testing of the accusations.

          • http://thoughtsonliberty.com/ Gina Luttrell

            Of course, the justice system is adversarial, but it is always supposed to be relevant. Irrelevance is a valid objection to raise in court. Thus, so it is here.

            “The question is still clearly relevant. It’s usually self-evident why a robbery victim didn’t fight back (they have a gun pointed at them)…”

            If someone has been physically and sexually assaulting you, wouldn’t a similar feeling of fear be present as well? It’s not like the guy is just knocking you around a bit as well. They’re completely terrorizing you. Many threaten death upon the victim. Many more actually follow through. Threat of violence/harm/death is even more prevalent in abuse situations, so it should be equally as obvious why an abuse victim wouldn’t immediately leave.

          • Robert Sanchez

            I don’t necessarily disagree, but these cases are very fact-sensitive.

            Was he terrorizing her? If so, then that would be an easy answer to the question you dispute. If not, then such a question would necessitate a more complicated answer. It’s clearly an insensitive question, but I don’t agree that it’s an irrelevant question. If she has a good answer, then she can share that with the board.

            No judge would ever rule that such a question was irrelevant. 9 times out of 10, the victim is a victim and such questions serve to enhance her trauma. But every once in a while, such questions can serve to confound a false accuser. If her fear was truly self-evident, then I don’t believe that such a question would even be asked.

          • http://thoughtsonliberty.com/ Gina Luttrell

            Usually false rape allegations are found out through inconsistencies in the accuser’s story, not through asking them questions like this.

            The position of the post made here remains the same and un-refuted. (1) UNC should not let students adjudicate sexual assault claims (2) The code UNC has that she’s being charged under is unconstitutional and (3) Allowing the honor court to try her for intimidation when she never named her alleged attacker is absolute nonsense.

    • erg

      You realize you’re doing exactly what the title of this article says not to, right?

      “It’s really just sour grapes at this point, and I think she’s enjoying the change to publicly play the martyr.” And the dig at Gender Studies? Seriously? Your misogyny is showing, Robert Sanchez.

      Have you considered the fact that Landen is so vocal about her situation because she wants to bring a voice to an issue that consistently plagues American universities? People like you, who discount her and claim she does it for the attention and for the supposed martyrdom are the reason why people like Landen and Elizabeth Robinson need to exist. Sexual assault and rape are extreme problems in our society, especially on college campuses. By dismissing both the author of this article and the subject of the article you are perpetuating the problem. People like you are the reason that so many victims of sexual assault don’t come forward- because they’re afraid of the nasty accusations and insults you’ll hurl at them.