UNC suspends Honor Court case against student who spoke out about alleged sexual assault

Dylan Stableford
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Officials at the University of North Carolina announced on Tuesday that the school's Honor Court is suspending its case against a student who had spoken out about an alleged sexual assault on UNC's Chapel Hill campus.

The announcement comes a day after Landen Gambill—a sophomore who reported being raped last spring—filed a federal complaint against the school for retaliation.

Gambill was accused of violating the school's honor code and creating a hostile environment for her alleged attacker by speaking out about her ordeal.

The charge came approximately a month after a group of current and former UNC students—including Gambill—filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights alleging that UNC officials had pressured the school's former assistant dean of students into underreporting sex offense cases.

[Related: UNC student faces expulsion for speaking about alleged sexual assault]

“For several weeks, the University has grappled with how best to respond to a public claim of retaliation against the University while maintaining the autonomy and integrity of our Honor Court proceedings and the privacy of the individuals involved,” UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff on Tuesday explaining the decision. “Recognizing the potential conflicts that may exist by allowing both processes to continue, we have asked the Student Attorney General to suspend the Honor Court proceeding pending an external review of these allegations of retaliation. The University takes all allegations of retaliation seriously, whether against an individual or an institution, and this allegation is no exception.”

On Monday, Gambill filed a federal complaint against the school for retaliation, her lawyer said.

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Gambill, who did not report the assault to police, said that when she reported it to the Honor Court last year, she was met with resistance and decided to go public. (Sexual assault was removed from the Honor Court’s jurisdiction in August 2012, according to the Daily Tar Heel.)

The case made national headlines, with Gambill's supporters taking to Facebook and Twitter, changing their avatars to say "I Stand With Landen" and tweeting messages with the hashtag #standwithlanden. Some of those students were subjected to threats, the university said.

"Sexual assault evokes passionate responses and concerns," Thorp said last month. "But it is important, particularly in a higher education community, to avoid judgment based upon speculation.

Rape on campus is a problem—and not just at UNC.

In 2010, the Department of Justice estimated that 25 percent of college women "will be victims of rape or attempted rape before they graduate within a four-year college period," and that schools with more than 6,000 students "average one rape per day during the school year.”

According to New York University's "National Statistics About Sexual Violence on College Campuses," fewer than 5 percent of such cases are reported to law enforcement.