According to the Daily Tar Heel, a ruling on April 17th, 2018, by the North Carolina Court of Appeals reports that there is a chance that UNC must report the names of people found responsible of violations against the Title IX policy, which includes sexual assault, harassment, stalking, discrimination, retaliation, and other related misconduct. A variety of news companies wanted names, dates, and sanctions related to these acts of misconduct.
The University, citing FERPA, said they want to protect survivors and the rights of all students; however, the decision made on that Tuesday in April repeals the decision that the privacy of student records dominates all else.
I have both concerns and joys about this.
First of all, thank goodness. I’m ready to see some accountability of perpetrators. I’m ready for the university to care about the safety of its students. I’m ready for an investigation that takes a lot of emotional energy and months of time to mean something, not only for the survivor, but for the well-being of all.
Sexual assault is a rampant and serious epidemic on college campuses, reaching further than we’d like to know. Approximately one in five of our friends will experience sexual assault during his or her time in college alone, with minorities at greater risk than others.
Clearly, we have a big problem.
For those who advocate for rapists or the falsely accused, I have a lot to say. First of all, know that only two to six percent of accusations are false -- which is the same amount as any other crime. In addition, some reports included in that statistic that have been labeled as “false allegations” are actually just people’s original worries for themselves or someone else before realizing an assault didn’t happen after all and correct that with the police, and are tied to vague descriptions of strangers rather than an acquaintance, which is clarified with police before any person’s life outside of the survivor’s is negatively affected. Many people who have been assaulted don’t label their experience as such, even if the definitions clearly state that assault is what they experienced.
For the very few who are truly falsely accused, I am sorry that happened to you. However, statistically, we should err on the side of the 94-98 percent. In many cases, no matter how much good evidence a survivor has (when finding evidence can be pretty tough and scarce in the first place), they’ve still lost cases. Statistically, it is more likely than not that a perpetrator will go free -- and perpetrate again -- than a survivor will win his or her case, despite the fact that the large, large majority of accusations are true.
This system supposedly aims for impartiality in equality, which should be good -- but equality is not what we need here -- we need equity. Equity levels the playing field, in which both sides have the chance they deserve for justice.
However, as far as problems with this legal finding, I believe some survivors may be more reluctant to seek justice for their experiences, especially if they know the person who perpetrated this act of violence against them. They may fear retaliation, drama within their relationships, or potentially harming the reputation of someone that could be as close to them as a friend or significant other.
In addition, the report of these names will be carried out retroactively as well -- meaning survivors who pursued these cases under the mutual understanding of confidentiality can no longer maintain that assured confidentiality.
The North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault's press release said they are grateful that the Court of Appeals overturned the decision between the Wake County Superior Court and UNC to keep those records public, but they feel steps towards accountability and transparency in this way should be taken with caution for survivors.
“Transparency without thoughtful consideration of the consequences to survivors that were not aware that this information would be released also causes us to pause,” the press release said. “We have concerns...Responsible party identification could have severe intended consequences including, but not limited to retaliation and/or suppression of victim reporting at universities.”
Students feel similar ways. Alexandra Smith, a UNC sophomore and future intern for NCCASA through the Carolina Women’s Center, says she likes the accountability of perpetrators and the knowledge for others who want to feel safer, but publicizing these names can hurt survivors through a multitude of avenues -- and that’s after a long, complex process that most likely was met with injustice and doubt of survivors’ true experiences.
“While this would work toward destigmatizing sexual assault, it’s not exactly a judge’s decision to force people to be ready all of a sudden,” Alexandra said. “Sharing a story of harassment or assault takes a lot of trust and understanding, and there are unfortunately cruel people out there who would use the information they learned from these names coming out against them.”
However, she’s interested to hear other people’s views. “I’m not out here to demand and say that my opinion is the right one; this is a really nuanced and complex decision that can affect everyone at the university. Everyone has different experiences that might make them react differently to the final decision.”
She also raises the point that a look at the demographics has the potential to say something about who is usually found responsible and how the university sees and values its students. “If, for example, a successful student athlete was found guilty of something but received a lighter penalty, it would imply that the University cares more about their public appearance and success of programs than doing what is right.”
She believes it’s also important to look at minorities who experience discrimination and stereotypes. “The same goes for people of color -- if it’s discovered that people of color receive harsher punishment than others, then there’s definitely an issue that needs to be addressed now.”
“I've heard more failure stories than success stories, and that speaks loads about the issue at hand,” she said. “Since ‘The Hunting Ground’ came out, I know there have been students and community members who question the true intentions behind the University, and wonder whether or not they give survivors the justice they deserve at the end of the day.”
Sammie Espada, an activist and outgoing Student Safety and Wellness co-chair, also sees the pros and cons of the names getting out. As an advocate, she thinks that "seeing the names can help us advocate for change at our university and try to hold the university accountable for specific cases."
However, she believes that survivors and their privacy should be our priority. "At this time we need to think about survivors -- their security, their mindset, and their needs."
She worries that the names becoming public will deter future survivors from feeling comfortable to pursue an investigation; but, she worries more about past survivors. "I also think I am most concerned about the previous survivors who have not been outspoken about their stories and how this might affect them. They never consented to this and we are not truly assessing the ramifications it may have on them."
Sammie works closely with the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office on Title IX policy. While she's excited to see their changes to the www.safe.unc.edu website, she felt frustrated over how few changes were able to be made, and how little time people met to work on these changes. One of her main problems with the policy is retaliation.
"I think there needs to be faster responses to retaliation, more rigorous penalties, and no additional processes should be created for a retaliation case in order for it to be less overwhelming for the survivor," she said.
The EOC Office reminds “reporting parties” that they can get a no contact order and that policies regarding retaliation are in place, but looking at the 2014 policy -- which won’t be revised until December 31, 2018 -- contains too many broad statements that don’t assist anyone’s understanding.
As the chair for the Carolina Sexual Assault Coalition, which works with Student Government’s Student Safety and Wellness Committee, I meet with other members to discuss our issues with the policy and discuss them with those in the EOC office.
Our concerns entail questions of what certain words -- good faith, intimidation, and sanctions, for example -- look like exactly. As far as the definition in the policy above retaliation -- complicity -- are we talking more like an accomplice or person contacting another person on the behalf of someone else? Are inactive bystanders charged? How many? What evidence is needed if obvious examples, like screenshots, aren’t available? If someone who has a No Contact Order against them retaliates, does that violate just the NCO or also the retaliation policy?
In this field and under these circumstances, we need three things: information, empathy, and equity. We need to know the composition of the policy that affects us. We need to know how the survivors related in retroactive cases feel about names becoming public and how we can work for the benefit of all. We need to have empathy for those who are scared and in tricky situations. We need equity in investigations that are inundated with injustice in various forms. UNC and legal systems: we need more.