University Of North Carolina Allegedly Pressured Dean To Underreport Incidents Of Sexual Assault On Campus

The University of North Carolina’s administration may have pressured Melinda Manning, the former assistant dean of students, to underreport cases of sexual assault on UNC’s campus in 2011. Manning, three current students, and one former student filed a compliant this week alleging the university has violated federal law by mishandling sexual assault incidents — and ultimately “facilitating a hostile environment” for students attempting to report sexual crimes.

Manning resigned from UNC last month over the administration’s poor treatment of rape survivors. She told the Huffington Post it was “absolutely heartbreaking” to watch victims of sexual assault being asked inappropriate questions about their experiences, and sometimes even being blamed for their own rape, as they attempted to seek help from the university’s judicial system.

And the complaint she filed with the U.S. Department of Education — obtained by the UNC student paper, the Daily Tar Heel — details the issues going all the way up to the highest levels of the university’s administration, who pressured her to suppress the actual levels of sexual assault on campus:

The complaint alleges Manning was told by the University Counsel’s office that the number of sexual assault cases she compiled for 2010 was “too high” before the total was decreased by three cases without her knowledge; that she was made the victim of a hostile work environment in the dean of students office; and that her efforts to reform the University’s handling of sexual assault cases were stymied more than once by higher administrators. […]

“(Manning) was told by a member of University Counsel staff that the ‘number of reports was too high’ and she was asked to ‘look over the numbers again,’” the complaint states. “For two weeks, she received multiple phone calls from various members of University Counsel staffasking her to ‘make sure that her numbers were correct.’

The number of sexual assaults that appeared in that year’s Clery report was three lower than the number Manning submitted to the Office of University Counsel, the document states.

The University reported six incidents of forcible sex offenses on campus for 2009, 19 for 2010, the year for which Manning was asked to compile statistics, and 12 for 2011.

Under the Clery Act, colleges and universities must disclose crime statistics to the federal government each year. The maximum fine for violating the act is $35,000 per incident. This week’s complaint was filed on behalf of over 60 UNC students who are survivors of sexual assault, suggesting the actual rate of sexual crime on campus is nowhere near the rates that get reported.

Colleges across the country have struggled with adequately addressing issues of rape culture and sexual assault on their campuses. But the UNC students spearheading the backlash against the administration — who have also started a petition to pressure university officials to “take action against the culture of sexual violence and hostility at UNC” — want to achieve substantial policy changes across the nation before the media conversation moves on.

“I want this case at UNC to affect policies that are in effect at Oregon,” one of the students who added her name to the official complaint told the Huffington Post. “You hear about Amherst, then it dies down; you hear about Yale, then it dies down. We’re tired of it just popping up and everyone saying it’s really horrible and then nothing happens.”