By Katherine Ayers
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
An ECU official said there is a “fine line” between a sexual assault victim’s First Amendment right to speak out about what happened and creating a hostile environment on campus for the alleged attacker.
The sexual assault situation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows how important it is to strike that balance.
Landen Gambill, a UNC-CH sophomore, alleges she was raped by an ex-boyfriend in 2011. The man was found not guilty by UNC-CH’s student-run Honor Court, and now that same court is charging Gambill with creating an intimidating environment for the man, a charge that ultimately could get her expelled.
“All of us have the right to the First Amendment (of the Constitution) as long as the information is true,” Maggie Olszweska, director of East Carolina University’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities (OSRR), said. “If a victim believes in good faith that a rape occurred, she or he has a right to say it independent of the judgment of a court system or the university.
“But then obviously, ‘rapist’ has a negative connotation in society and it’s a bad label,” she said. “So there’s a balance of letting the victim speak their mind and then creating a hostile environment for the accused.”
Olszweska said that when the university is notified of a possible rape or attempted rape, the first concern is for the safety of the victim. Depending on the victim’s needs, he or she can be transported to Student Health Services or to the hospital. If the student chooses to use a rape kit to submit for police processing, that also is handled at the hospital. An on-call ECU counselor is available to assist the victim and can provide continuing counseling after the event.
Regardless of whether a victim chooses to report the assault to police, as soon as the university learns about it, OSRR steps in.
Olszweska said her office will take a statement from both the victim and the accused student and conduct interviews with others who may have knowledge of the situation. They then make a determination as to whether or not the accused student violated the “Endangerment” section of the Student Code of Conduct.
“If the person is found responsible, then we would assign sanctions depending on the severity of the assault,” the director said. “In some minor cases, the person is allowed to stay on campus but be required to go to counseling and has other sanctions, but if it’s serious, suspension would be appropriate.”
Once a judgment is delivered, both the complainant and the accused have the right to not agree with the decision and ask that it be taken to ECU’s Conduct Board.
The board is comprised of three students, one staff member and one faculty member.
“When a case goes to the conduct board, it’s a brand- new review,” Olszweska said. “We present the information that we’ve collected, both the complainant and the accused have a right to be present and speak in front of the panel and present evidence, witnesses, documentation and pictures to them.”
Olszweska said that at the end of a hearing, the panel makes a recommendation to Virginia Hardy, ECU’s student affairs vice chancellor, and she makes the final decision.
Just because the university finds that a student is not responsible under the Endangerment section does not mean nothing happened, Olszweska said.
“It just means that we don’t have enough information based on our standard of proof, the preponderance of the evidence, to establish a violation,” she said. “I think a lot of victims think ‘they said he’s not responsible, they think I’m lying,’ and that’s not the case. We just didn’t have enough information to move forward.”
In 2011, the most recent statistics available, ECU reported nine “forcible sex offenses,” but Olszweska said the number of occurrences is vastly underreported. She also said that the university investigates all claims regardless of the gender of either party and whether a student has been drinking.
“We will never open up a conduct case against a victim for (an underage) alcohol violation,” she said. “It’s our belief that sexual assault is a bigger issue to address for our community.”
Contact Katherine Ayers at email@example.com and 252-329-9567. Follow her on Twitter @KatieAyersGDR.
via The Daily Reflector.