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Student seeks fair treatment for rape victims

Pino is the first in her family to go to college and was among some 30,000 prospective students who applied in 2010. The nationally ranked university enrolls only about 4,000 new students each year.

“It was my dream school,” said Pino, a graduate of Miami’s International Studies Charter School.

But two years into her studies, Pino, 21, finds herself on the front lines in a national effort among students and parents to hold colleges and universities accountable for their treatment of rape victims.

In March 2012, Pino was at an off-campus party when a fellow student, whom she did not know, dragged her into a bathroom, pounded her head against the tile floor and raped her.

She filed a report with the university, but told almost no one except a handful of friends who dismissed her story and warned that no one would believe her. It’s not clear whether the university investigated her rape or reported it to local police.

Pino, a junior studying political science, is among five individuals, including a longtime assistant dean, who in January filed a federal civil rights complaint against the university. Among other things, they allege that high-level administrators falsified rape statistics, that administrators created a hostile work and educational environment, and that rape victims often found themselves accused of lying or exaggerating.

Another complainant, Landen Gambill, drew national headlines recently when the sophomore said she was threatened by UNC administrators with expulsion after she spoke publicly about how she was treated under the school’s sexual misconduct policies.

The university denies that it had anything to do with the charges, which are being investigated by the school’s student Honors Court.

UNC spokeswoman Karen Moon said the college’s outgoing chancellor, Holden Thorp, was not available for comment. Thorp announced his retirement in September, following several high-profile scandals involving school athletes accused of receiving improper benefits and academic advantages. He leaves in June.

Gambill filed a complaint with UNC’s student-run Honors Court last spring, charging that her ex-boyfriend had attacked and raped her. The court, composed of undergraduates, is responsible for hearing misconduct complaints and sanctioning students who violate UNC policy.

Gambill’s former boyfriend was found not guilty during a trial that Gambill says forced her to relive her attack in graphic detail. Afterward, she spoke out against the university’s handling of the matter, prompting her boyfriend, who has not been identified, to file a complaint against her with the student court.

The university contends that no school official threatened Gambill with expulsion; that is the domain of the honors court. “No student has ever been disciplined for reporting a sexual assault or any Honor Code violation. Further, no university administrator filed or encouraged the filing of charges in this case; there is no retaliation by the university.”

But the school’s website said that the court is composed of a cross-section of North Carolina students, faculty and administrators, and “oversees the implementation of the Honor Code and the workings of the Honor System at UNC.”

On March 1, members of the campus community held a rally in support of Gambill, who is accused of creating an “intimidating environment” for her alleged rapist. A UNC official, in a letter, warned Gambill that she could face serious punishment for her actions, including expulsion. “We hoped our university would listen and instead we’re faced with retaliation. We’ve been made into perpetrators,” said Pino, who attended the rally along with about 200 other students.

“Sexual assault is intolerable - at Carolina or anywhere else,” Chancellor Thorp said March 1 in a statement to the local newspaper, The Chapel Hill News.

UNC, with approximately 30,000 students, is often referred to as a “Public Ivy.” In 2011, it was ranked by U.S. News & World Report fifth among the nation’s top public colleges and universities. Tuition is about $8,000 per year for North Carolina residents and $29,000 for out-of-state residents.

Pino and former UNC student Annie Clark researched and wrote the federal complaint, which has been filed with the U.S. Department of Education.

In the complaint, Melinda Manning, the college’s former assistant dean of students, alleges that high-ranking administrators pressured her to doctor sexual assault statistics.

When she refused, she was punished, according to the complaint, which was obtained by UNC’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. The newspaper reported that Manning, who had been at the college for two decades, complained that she was overlooked for a promotion and received negative employee evaluations after she became vocal about UNC’s attempt to downgrade its rape statistics.

The Miami Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Manning, who resigned in December.

John Foubert, national president and founder of One In Four, a nonprofit dedicated to rape prevention among college students, said the scandal at UNC is especially egregious because school administrators are accused of engaging in a systemic pattern of civil rights abuses.

“You don’t charge a woman who has been raped with some trumped up baloney, and that’s what they are doing,” Foubert said. “It’s revictimization at its utmost.”

The news of Gambill’s predicament swept across the Internet, prompting world headlines and national outrage. Pino and Clark wrote blog entries on the Huffington Post, detailing the actions of a university that seemed more worried about its image than protecting its students.

“Here you have some strong empowered women who have said we’re not going to be silenced,” said Foubert, whose organization’s name comes from the statistic that about one in four women have been sexually assaulted by the time they graduate from college.

The issue has led Pino to launch “The Courage Project,” an effort to put a face to a crime that historically has been cloaked in secrecy. The website (www.courageproject.com) gives students and their loved ones a place to discuss the pain they’ve experienced as a result of sexual assault.

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