UNC-CH responds to federal investigation of sex assaults
Posted March 21, 2013
Updated March 22, 2013
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill responded Thursday to a federal request for information about the handling of sexual assault cases on campus.
Five women, including a former assistant dean, asked the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights to look into what they called an atmosphere of sexual violence at the school.
Their complaint accuses UNC-Chapel Hill of under-reporting sexual assault cases for 2010 in an annual report to the federal government on campus crime. It also alleged that campus officials allowed a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault.
The response included information on UNC-Chapel Hill's policies and procedures and the training of university staff and a very detailed spreadsheet of all student complaints of sexual harassment brought to the university's attention.
"UNC-Chapel Hill continues to strive to be a leader among colleges and universities in the response, investigation and adjudication of student complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual assault/sexual violence and discrimination based upon sex," officials said in the response. "In order to achieve this objective, the university recognizes the need to perform ongoing assessment of its policies and procedures and to seize opportunities to clarify, refine and improve these processes."
"It's definitely a step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing the university’s response," said Annie Clark, a former student and one of the women who filed the complaint.
"It’s been a lot, but I think, moving forward and knowing that change is happening, that is very empowering, and I can’t wait to move forward and see what comes of this," Clark said.
UNC-Chapel Hill officials said they would cooperate "fully and in good faith" with the investigation, and they pointed out that some changes have already occurred.
Gina Smith, a former prosecutor and nationally recognized expert on sexual assault issues, has been hired to help the school strengthen its policies in such cases. The university also hired two employees to investigate sexual assault allegations and help survivors of sexual assault get the information and resources they need.
Clark now lives in Oregon, and Thursday was her first visit to the Chapel Hill campus since the complaint was filed.
"I love Carolina. This is my home," she said. "We filed this because we wanted to make this school a better place. We wanted to see it improve, but also knowing the painful process that a lot of individuals are going to have to go through because of that, it’s definitely difficult."