University of North Carolina student Landen Gambill will be facing trial with the institution’s Honor Court by going public with allegations that she was raped by her ex-boyfriend, who is also a UNC student. Landen went to the Honor Court to file sexual assault charges early last year, and claims that the resulting not-guilty verdict was due to inappropriate handling of the case, and inadequate help for rape victims. Frustrated with the outcome, Gambill filed a complaint against UNC with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, citing inappropriate handling of sexual assault cases.
In response to Landen going public, her ex-boyfriend filed a complaint with the Honor Board, claiming that she was engaging in “intimidating” behavior which was adversely affecting his life on-campus. Landen claims that she has not specifically mentioned him by name at any point, and does not understand how speaking out about the mishandling of the case has resulted in an unsafe environment for him. If Landen is found guilty of the allegation, she will face expulsion.
The Honor Code violation that Landen is being charged with cites, “disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another…” It seems a bit ironic that she should face such a charge when she claims to have been victimized by someone who willfully abused, disparaged, and interfered with her body, her mind, and her sense of security. I don’t know if Landen’s allegations are true. What I do know is that a woman should not be reprimanded or threatened for challenging how claims of sexual assault are treated by institutions that should be accountable to all people equally.
Ms. Gambill’s case strikes a nerve in today’s climate of victim-blaming. The 2012 U.S. election stirred up a lot of conversation revolving around abortion and emergency contraception, which ultimately led to discussion of rape. Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) is now infamous for blathering the unbelievable statement, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” This ignoramus, who seemingly has no shred of a clue about the basic facts of life, served as a U.S. Representative for 12 years.
Another couple of gems that popped up last year came from Rep. Roger Rivard (R-WI), who stated “some girls rape easy,” and “consensual sex can turn into rape in an awful hurry.” Thanks for those enlightening comments, Mr. Rivard! As a woman, I now know that I should really tighten up my bootstraps and take responsibility for making sure I don’t “rape easy.” (On that note—does anyone know of anywhere online I can get a good deal on burqas?) It’s also helpful to know that if I make a sexual decision that reflects unfavorably on my ladyhood, I can simply cry rape and move on!
The concept of blaming the victim in cases of assault—and particularly rape—is gaining unfortunate momentum lately. The year started off with the horrifying case of Jyoti Singh Pandey, who was gang-raped on a bus in India and subsequently died of her injuries. In a scramble to protect the dignity of the nation, politicians and public figures made unfathomably ignorant and insensitive remarks implying that she could have somehow prevented the tragedy if only she had been dressed differently, not boarded the bus, been a more moral person, begged more convincingly… sadly, the list goes on.
Are we moving backward into the Dark Ages? How is it that, even today, there is so much blindness surrounding the issue of a woman being sexually violated? People can be falsely accused of any crime, and rape is no exception. But just because there have been cases of false rape allegations does not open the door for such scrutiny to be appropriate when a woman claims that she was assaulted. A stronger stance needs to be taken by public leaders and institutions to show that if a woman has the guts to come forward about being assaulted, she will be listened to. Not expelled.