Earlier this week the Onion rather notoriously tweeted a reference to a nine-year old girl as the c-word. While they did at least delete the tweet and apologize, I do think that cultural mindset of devaluing women’s bodies reflects on two of the big stories of the last couple of days, in which such devaluation translated into actual victim-blaming and dismissing rape charges against women.
Yesterday it was revealed that a unit of the Met (UK Metropolitan Police Service of the Greater London area) set up specifically to investigate rape and sexual assault cases had actively discouraged women from reporting rape. They did so by haranguing women in the preliminary stages of investigation, tending to disbelieve their stories and attempting to convince victims to retract their claims of rape and sexual assault. Hence numerous rape allegations were dismissed under circumstances that an independent commission referred to as “clearly inappropriate.” It turns out that a primary motivation for such dismissal of serious criminal claims was to improve that police unit’s statistics for investigations leading to prosecution in order to claim (quite superficially) greater success to the public.
In the most shocking case, the police unit dismissed a woman’s claim that she was raped by her husband who had made further threats of violence; that man eventually killed their two children with a knife as an act of aggression against her. The police recorded the original rape as “consensual sex” and never even conducted an interview with the man in question. (Source: London Evening Standard).
Yesterday I came across another story involving dismissal of rape allegations that has recently gotten a fair amount of attention (although not nearly as much as it should have). This one struck a bit of an internal chord with me because it occurred on the campus of my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (I did undergrad there).
The backdrop for this shares disturbingly similar overtones with the previous story: late last year a group of student assault survivors and a former Assistant Dean of the University filed a Title IX lawsuit with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in an attempt to compel UNC to fundamentally reform its policies for handling sexual assault cases. The numbers game again reportedly plays a role, as former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning claims she was told that the number of sexual assault cases she reported in a particular year were “too high,” and that the the University then removed three cases from her report without informing her.
One of the students involved in the lawsuit has had a particularly harrowing experience dealing with the University over her experience with sexual assault on campus– and now she may be at risk for expulsion from the school simply for reporting that she was raped. During her first year on campus, UNC student Landen Gambill was sexually and verbally abused by her boyfriend at the time, followed by harassment and stalking after their relationship ended. Landen reported this abuse to the UNC Honor Court and pressed charges against her ex. She reports that her experience with the Honor Court, however, was fraught with inappropriate questions and judgmental statements from the panel members of the court. These questions forced her to relive the painful experiences of her former relationship over again, despite the fact that some of the questions were reportedly simply irrelevant to the trial.
Of her experiences with the Honor Court system, Landen has stated that, “it’s incredibly clear that those people had no idea what sexual assault is, what consent is,” and that “they made it seem like my assault was completely my fault.”
For example, one woman on the court panel reportedly told her, “Landen, as a woman, I know that if that had happened to me, I would’ve broken up with him the first time it happened. Will you explain to me why you didn’t?” The court also used the fact that she attempted suicide as a result of her former partner’s treatment to try to dismiss her claims that that abuse had occurred in the first place.
But the situation devolved to an unbelievable new low last Friday when Landen received an email from a school official stating that she herself would now be referred to the Honor Court on the charge that she may have committed
“Disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another… so as to adversely affect their academic pursuits, opportunities for University employment, participation in University-sponsored extracurricular activities, or opportunities to benefit from other aspects of University Life.”
In other words, Landen may be guilty of “intimidating” her rapist by speaking out publicly about the fact that she was raped. And this despite the fact that she has never publicly identified that man.
She now faces the possibility of expulsion from the University if she is found guilty of such ‘intimidation.’
Luckily there has been a response to this wave of intimidation and University-sanctioned victim-blaming. Online activists have begun tweeting in support of Landen at the hashtag: #StandWithLanden
In addition there is also a petition in support of those who have filed the lawsuit to force the University to fundamentally alter its policies on dealing with sexual assault and abuse:
Please sign the petition in support of sexual assault survivors here.