Rape culture still haunts college campuses

There is a revolution happening on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, and it’s one that deserves attention across the nation.  UNC sophomore Landen Gambill is facing enormous backlash over speaking out about her experiences with her ex-boyfriend – experiences that she claims ended in rape and verbal abuse.

To create a timeline, Gambill and her ex-boyfriend were together during their freshman year at UNC.  During this time, Gambill claims she was the victim of repeated verbal abuse and unwanted sexual advances until such time that the relationship ended. During spring 2012, four months after the break-up, Gambill filed a complaint against her ex-boyfriend through the University, and that’s where the situation gets crazy.

In February 2012, shortly after Ms. Gambill filed her complaint, her ex-boyfriend, (who has chosen to remain anonymous in all interviews), was called into the dean’s office and put on suspension.  According to an interview he did with UNC’s newspaper, The Daily Tarheel, he was not afforded the platform to offer evidence in his favor, only immediate suspension.  In May of 2012, the University Hearings Board found him not guilty of two counts of sexual misconduct, and guilty of verbal harassment.  It was not until December 5, 2012 that he was able to regain admittance to the school, at which point he claims he experienced numerous threats to his safety and was diagnosed with PTSD.  His attorney has made a public statement suggesting that Gambill’s accusations have been inaccurate and damaging to his reputation, an allegation that UNC administrators have taken into serious consideration.

Gambill’s ex-boyfriend lodged a complaint with the school, one he claims was not driven by intent to punish Gambill, but which has no doubt resulted in the questioning of her credibility.  Gambill states she was even questioned by a female member of the Hearings Board, who stated that, if she were in Gambill’s position, the first instance of abuse would have resulted in the ending of the relationship, suggesting further that Gambill’s choices to remain in the relationship and stall her complaint don’t line up logically.  Gambill’s credibility has been further damaged by the release of her personal medical information, including record of a suicide attempt.

Gambill chose not to appeal the decision made by the Hearing Board on her case, instead heading up the “We Stand with Landen” campaign centered at UNC Chapel Hill, and continuing to speak out about the abuse she says she experienced, as well as the difficulty she now faces in making her story heard.  The UNC Honors Court issued a charge to Gambill on February 22, qualifying that she had violated the UNC Student Honor Code in speaking out about her rapist, as it cast him in a poor light.  The School Attorney General Elizabeth Ireland went as far as to say in an email to Gambill that her actions were “disruptive and intimidating” to her attacker.  The school has since threatened expulsion for Gambill, who said in a statement to The Huffington Post: “Obviously, I’m afraid. I never meant to make anyone mad at me [by speaking out]. I’m mostly surprised at just how crazy it is, that they’re willing to charge me with something just because my rapist is feeling uncomfortable.”

As I was unable to reach Gambill personally for a statement, it is difficult for me to draw a line between right and wrong, innocent and guilty in this situation.  A number of online blogs including Community of the Wrongly Accused and A Voice for Men are crying out against alleged victims like Gambill as instigators of “false rape culture.”  One of the main arguments against Gambill’s case in this vein is that, despite her alleged attacker being found innocent on charges of sexual misconduct, he is still referred to in the media as her “rapist.”  What can be said is that the enormous game of he-said-she-said Gambill’s case has transformed into is hardly helpful to either party.  The social media witch-hunt of Gambill that has resulted from her activism does little other than to further perpetuate the victimization and/or blame of both parties in a vicious cycle.  What can be sure is that there is a definite taboo surrounding the issue of sexual violence on college campuses across America, and the current manner in which universities attempt to achieve campus transparency results in issues like this. Under no circumstances should a victim of sexual assault be hushed for the sake of preserving his or her attacker’s reputation, but due process should be observed in the examination of the accused.  If Gambill’s case and the subsequent news coverage are an indication of the current standard of protocol in handling these situations, there is much left to be desired.