Chapel Hill investigation highlights sexual assault issue

Chapel Hill investigation highlights sexual assault issue

Kevin Griffin

The conversation over sexual assault and its handling by universities has become a national topic, and that has come up in the University of North Carolina system as well several times in the last few years.

The Department of Education has started an investigation at UNC Chapel Hill into potential violations of the Clery Act, a federal law requiring financial aid-receiving colleges to report crime rates.

The investigation was initiated after Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning claimed the university pressured her to under report incidences of sexual assault, a claim the university denies, according to The Daily Tar Heel.

Chapel Hill is not the only UNC-system university to face problems with sexual assault. Appalachian State University also received criticism because of administrative handling during a sexual assault case involving football players, according to the March 6, 2012 edition of The Appalachian.

Rape and sexual assault are issues that are frustratingly hard when they should be quite simple. There are no shortage of conflicting definitions, narratives and even statistics.
The issue of sexual assault is a difficult one to grapple with because of the heavy emotional implications. As with most uncomfortable topics, the automatic reaction is too often to ignore the problem.

But this approach is part of the problem. What is required to combat the problem of sexual assault is an open approach that allows victims to come forward, as well as clarity in defining sexual assault.

One of the most disturbing facts about sexual assault is how underreported it is. A 2007 Justice Department report found that only 12 percent of college women who had been raped reported it, compared to 16 percent of women in the general population reported being raped.

The reason many did not report came from fear, both of reprisal and of how the victim would be perceived.

Those who have the power to do so must ensure that victims feel safe reporting the crime. This means authorities must take initiative in pursuing rape claims and ensuring that those who do rape are punished.

A further step involves broadening the scope of research and consideration of violent crime. Often, the definition of rape and the way rape is examined excludes certain groups of people.

It was only in 2012 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation changed its definition of rape to be more broad from the old definition, which left out the possibility of rape against men.

There is also the problem of sexual assault against LGBT people and how it is covered. Many are sexually assaulted at disproportionate levels and are wary of seeking help, according to Al Jazeera.

A major reason this problem persists as it does is that victims feel unable to communicate what has been done to them. Universities and other institutions must move toward creating environments where victims can feel safe and see that justice is sought for them.

Kevin Griffin, a sophomore journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.