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article imageOp-Ed: A fact-based look at campus rape and the Landen Gambill case Special

By Greta McClain     Mar 3, 2013 in Crime
The case of Landen Gambill has sparked outrage by sexual assault victims and advocates alike. It has also led to some questioning the validity of Gambill's claims.
Last week, Digital Journal reported University of North Carolina (UNC) sophomore Landen Gambill was notified she was subject to expulsion after publicly claiming she was raped by a fellow student. Many stand in support of Gambill, while some choose to put her on trial.
Sexual assault, like domestic violence, has held a societal stigma for centuries. For decades, modern law enforcement considered domestic violence a "private family matter". Those attitudes have slowly changed however and incidents of domestic violence are now treated like any other criminal assault. Sadly, the same cannot always be said for sexual assault. There are still times when the victim is blamed for the assault, with some saying a victim should not have been drinking, should have been wearing different clothing, should not have been in public at a late hour, etc. Others sometimes automatically call into the question the victim's truthfulness. These attitudes serve to only re-victimize someone who has been sexually assaulted, causing many to refuse to even report the assault. If the assault is reported, a victim often chooses to tell a friend, mentor or official they feel they can trust.
A report by the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs says:
"Few incidents of sexual victimization were reported to law enforcement officials. Thus, fewer than 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes were reported to law enforcement officials."
The reasons for not reporting the assault include fear that the suspect will retaliate against the victim, fear that law enforcement officers would be hostile towards the victim and either not believe the victim or refuse to investigate the incident. Another common reason is fear of being victimized by the judicial system.
When I was in college, a friend of mine was a victim of sexual assault. It occurred in a restroom at a bar we had gone to one evening. I saw her within moments of the assault and I knew something was wrong. All she could say was "we have to go, we have to go", shaking uncontrollably.
As were drove back to the dorm she said nothing, simply shaking and staring blankly out the window. I was scared because I did not understand what had happened or why she was acting this way. When I saw a campus security officer parked in a parking lot I pulled up to his car. I got out of the car and told the officer something was wrong with my friend but I didn't know what or how to help. I would soon learn that was the worst thing I could have done.
He walked over to my car, opened the passenger door and kept asking what was wrong. When she finally spoke all she said was:
“He grabbed me, I tried to make him stop.”
He told her to "shut up", slammed the care door and then told me to follow him to the campus security office. When we got inside the office, he told another officer he had a drunk girl he had to baby sit. She had yet to finish her first beer and was far from drunk.
He told her to sit down, sober up and stop wasting his time. After several minutes of this she finally began to tell him what happened. Before she could finish he interrupted her and said “don’t even try and tell me you were raped.” She stopped just started at him. He continued by saying:
“You got drunk, you were talking to some guy, you got laid and now you wish you hadn't done it, right? That’s what happened right? Now you are afraid you might get pregnant and you have to have an excuse for your parents.”
She sat there and he grabbed her and started shaking her and said “right!” She finally just shook her head yes.
We were both in shock by now, but when I got her back to her dorm room I told her we had to call the city police. She refused, and I can’t say as I blame her considering how she was just treated. She made me promise not to tell anyone and as far as I know, she never did report the rape to anyone else.
Another woman had been working on a school project for about a week when she was sexually assaulted by the night janitor. Everyone knew and liked the man, a sweet gray haired man that reminded you of your grandfather.
As she left the building for the evening, an arm reached out from one of the classrooms and grabbed her. She stumbled and fell to the floor where he pinned her down and covered her mouth. After he was finished raping her, he told her not to bother telling anyone what had happened because no one would believe her. He had worked at the university for 25 years and everyone loved him and “knew” he would never do such a thing. She said it was a small college town, so if everyone on campus knew you, everyone in the town knew you as well.
Two days later she finally decided she had to tell someone and told a professor that she trusted. He said the Dean needed to be told and the two of them went to the Dean's office. After listening to her, the Dean asked if she was sure it happened the way she said and asked if she had told anyone else. He then told her to wait and walked out of his office and spoke with the professor.
Both men returned and told her to come with them. She did and three of them went to the Vice Chancellor. The Vice Chancellor asked her if she had received medical treatment or filed a police report. She said no and he responded by saying “good”. He said the University Police would begin an investigation and not to tell anyone else, including her parents, about the matter because it would “harm the investigation”. From that point on he refused to answer her calls, see her personally and eventually told her if she did not stop “pestering him” about the incident he would be forced to refer her to the university disciplinary board.
According to a New York University study 81 percent of on-campus and 84 percent of off-campus sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Fewer than 5% of attempted/completed rapes are reported to law enforcement.
In the case of Landen Gambill, the man accused of sexually assaulting her was not found guilty of rape, but he was found guilty of harassment. He was suspended and given a letter of discipline on his transcript.
Failure to obtain a guilty verdict does not make the accused innocent any more than being accused of a crime makes one guilty. It is not usual for trials involving rape to end in a not guilty verdict or in a hung jury, especially if there is a limited amount of physical trauma. Even when there is evidence of substantial injuries, the accused may be found innocent, or may never even be charged.
A University of Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism report tells the story of Abby Panozzo. Abby was raped while at a University of Wisconsin-Madison women’s lacrosse team party. Following the rape, she sought medical treatment. The forensic nurse who examined Abby told her she was bleeding internally and her cervix was swollen. Despite reporting the incident to police and having medical evidence backing up her rape claim, law enforcement officials refused charge the man accused of raping her.
The report goes on to say only 1 out of every 17 women who are raped report the assault. One reason given for failing to report the incident is that victims still face barriers in reporting assaults, including a fear that the experience will leave them feeling victimized again. Lori Berquam, Dean of Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison admits there are barriers to reporting sexual assaults on campus, and said she was deeply sorry rape victims "experienced challenges in obtaining assistance that they sought."
Following the 28 hour hearing in the Gambill case, a detailed account of the alleged abuse, which Gambill had submitted as evidence, was given to her parents without her permission. A source within the office of the honor system told the Daily Beast sharing confidential paperwork such as the alleged abuse account is a violation of the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA). Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, also said the release of the account appears to be a clear violation of FERPA.
The release of the information to Gambill’s parents has caused a strain in their relationship according to Gambill, thus victimizing her again.
This was also not the first time UNC had been accused of violating the rights of sexual assault victims. According to a Huffington Post report numerous women have experienced re-victimization by the university, with university officials acting as if no assault took place and protecting alleged rapists while disenfranchising assault survivor advocates. In fact, a total of 64 students are named in the recent U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights complaint. It is not simply Gambill’s word against her alleged attacker and the university; it is the word of sixty-three other women who have had similar experiences with UNC. It is unknown how many others there may be who simply decided they were not willing to run the risk of becoming victims of the system.
Although both the alleged victim and the accused deserve to be considered innocent of wrong doing until proven otherwise, some chose to automatically assume a victim is being untruthful with little or no knowledge of the case. Statistically, false reports of rape are uncommon. The percentage of unreported rapes is much higher than the number of false reports.
According to FBI statistics, approximately eight percent of rape complaints are classified as “unfounded”. In order to be classified as unfounded, the report must be false or baseless. A baseless report means the sexual assault does not meet the elements of a crime. According to an Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force report baseless reports commonly refer to a report file by someone who believes they are the victim of a crime, but the incident does not meet state criminal code guidelines.
An example of a baseless report is spousal rapes. Up until July of 1993, it was not a crime to have consensual sex with your spouse. Since 1993, many states still have exemptions in place. In Tennessee, in order for a spouse to be charged with spousal rape, they must use a weapon of cause serious bodily injury to the victim. If neither occurred and the victim reported the rape to law enforcement, it would be considered baseless and thus classified as unfounded or false. Currently, only 19 out of 50 states have removed all spousal rape exemptions.
There is little wonder many victims fail to report sexual assault. Simply writing a journalistic report on a case involving sexual assault can sometimes lead to taunting and sarcastic private messages by others. In the United States, the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty. It is high time we afford the same courtesy to those who are victimized.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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