There have been isolated reports of American colleges and universities covering up or otherwise misreporting rape cases involving their students, but it appears the University of North Carolina has taken the cake this time. Its former assistant dean of students, Melinda Manning, and four students (three current, one former) have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights alleging that university officials encouraged and pressured Manning to underreport rape cases — a serious violation of many important non-discrimination laws. To make matters significantly worse, one of the student victims, Landen Gambill, has been charged under the UNC Honor Code with “intimidating” her alleged rapist by discussing her sexual assault with the press. If Gambill is found to have “adversely” impacted the his life, she could be subject to expulsion by the university.
This incident recalls the outrageous practice of “honor killing.” In some conservative cultures, rape supposedly brings shame upon the family, and fathers deal with this perceived problem by murdering their own daughters. It is plain to see the perverse logic of punishing the victim twice, and in a sense UNC is acting like this type of paternal agent and attempting to preserve its honor — i.e., public image — which is understandable, if it weren’t at the expense of silencing the victim. The UNC decision is not tantamount to murder, but it resembles honor killings in that it is a violation of a rape victim’s dignity and basic rights by someone who should protect her.
The course of action pursued by UNC is reprehensible and deserves strong reproach. To claim to care about the welfare of all students and then underreport sexual crimes and punish the victims of such crimes is hypocrisy at its most egregious. Due process must be followed, and while it is important to protect the rights of both sides in any legal dispute, to threaten a victim who has the courage to speak out about her horrific experiences with expulsion is pathetic and detrimental to other young victims who need the encouragement to share their stories and confront their abusers.
If the UNC administration considers its own actions to have any vestige of justice for its students, it may want to rename its “Honor Code” — the honor was lost long ago.
A version of this article was published in the Tuesday, Feb. 26 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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