This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture


WTF Wednesday: University says rape victim violated school’s honour code by reporting assault

Catherine McIntyre

What undermines human rights more than sexual abuse? Having no consolation that, if violated, those rights will be defended.

Last spring, Landen Gambill, a student at the University of North Carolina, reported to the university’s “Honor Court” (a board of students and faculty) that she was sexually assaulted. Gambill’s alleged rapist, her ex-boyfriend, was found not guilty. Soon aft

er, the Honor Court sent Gambill a letter that she had violated the university’s Honor Code by enganging in “disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another.”

I should note that Gambill has never named her ex-boyfriend whose reputation she’s allegedly compromising. Regardless, she’s now facing expulsion.

There’s more.

Last month, the school’s former assistant dean of students, Melinda Manning, along with four others (including Gambill), filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In the complaint, Manning says she was forced to under-report the number of sexual assaults on campus. You know, like, only count the legitimate rapes, right Todd Akins?

So, to re-cap, here’s what boggles my mind:

  • Rape victim gets punished for reporting assault
  • The Honor Council, a student-run board, determines the verdict of a reported rape
  • Administration acknowledges the unacceptably high number of sexual assaults. How? By sweeping a few under the rug.

But what’s most unsettling about all this is that it’s not unique. Abused women (and men, but mostly women) are often at the mercy of institutions and authorities that put blame on the victim.

Look for instance at the February 13 report exposing RCMP’s abuses against aboriginal women in Northern British Columbia. Since the 1960’s woman have been going missing along Highway 16—what’s become known as the Highway of Tears.

Not only did Human Rights Watch find the RCMP poorly investigated the disappearances, women in the area reported extensive physical and sexual abuse by the police who were supposed to be protecting them.

The report is full of photos showing police brutality—the bruised and swollen face of a 17 year old girl; the stitched leg of a 12 year old girl mauled by a police dog as they searched the child for bear mace.

In one testimonial, a woman reported being raped by four RCMP officers who threatened to kill her if she didn’t keep quiet.

But you’ve heard this story already. It’s a common headline: Another woman gang-raped on bus. Except that happened in India. How quick we are to shame “developing” countries for human rights violations while we hush them up at home.

And it’s easy to keep quiet because victims are terrified to come forward. Think about it; why would you report abuse only to endure more of it?

The Human Rights Watch report noted:

“[Researchers] were struck by the fear expressed by women they interviewed. The women’s reactions were comparable to those Human Rights Watch has found in post-conflict or post-transition countries, where security forces have played an integral role in government abuses and enforcement of authoritarian policies.”

So, let’s admit that rape culture—victim-blaming and tolerance surrounding rape—is a real problem in North America. Then let’s obliterate that culture.

In her book, Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, Inga Muscio asks, “What if one out of every three multinational corporation CEO’s were raped every year? Don’t you think that would raise a kind of ruckus?” Yes, Muscio, I do. And ladies, don’t we deserve that same kind of ruckus?

Show Comments