It’s hard to find a woman hasn’t had it happen to her or someone she knows in a college setting. For one friend, it was waking up the next day after a night of heavy drinking and asking herself, "Did I really allow that to happen?" For another friend, it was an ex-boyfriend trying to break down the door of an apartment they once shared in the middle of the night, my friend curled up in fear on her bedroom floor as she waited for the police to arrive. For me, it was a series of creepy emails from a guy who was unhappy that I had broken off contact with him after a tumultuous friendship. I later learned these emails constituted harassment.
It’s been widely reported that campuses have a tendency to look the other way when students report instances of date rape, and that’s after the small number of women who this happens to come forward. There are’s many reasons that have been cited for this: how women are told to prevent rape, but men aren’t taught not to be rapists; the rape culture that continually prevails, despite attempts to stop it; the blame that victims face when they come forward.
And then there is of course, the tendency of victims blame themselves for what happens to them.
But what happens when a victim actually comes forward, only to have disciplinary action reversed on her? It’s what’s happening to University of North Carolina student Landen Gambill, who is facing expulsion after talking to the media about her sexual assault case against a long-term boyfriend, which she says the university handled poorly. Gambill was quoted in UNC’s Daily Tar Heel as saying that the state of her mental health was questioned at her Honor Court trial.
The college alleges that Gambill is intimidating her abuser by discussing her poor experience in reporting sexual assault to the public.
UNC might be making waves by being one of the first know campuses to go after a women who reported her sexual assault, but they are far from being the only college that has turned the tables on an alleged victim. There was the case of Lizzy Seeberg, who was intimidated by Notre Dame after reporting her alleged sexual assault by a football player.
During my college orientation, I remember getting a list of hotlines to call if I needed to talk to someone about sexual assault. There were fliers from the campus counseling center that encouraged victims to come forward.
But pieces of paper can only do so much, if they’re not backed up by actions. Colleges may say they support victims and strict disciplinary action against students found guilty of sexual assault. Getting victims to come forward might not be the biggest challenge, however. That lies with providing support for victims as they go through the process of pressing charges either through law enforcement or a campus code of conduct.
Colleges and universities could start by following this first step on how to help victims from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network: Listen. Be there. Don’t be judgmental.