On the SaVe Act, UNC Chapel Hill, and Protecting All Students

By Emily Butler

Worst case scenario: what do you do if you need to report a sexual assault on your campus? Do you know who to contact? Which department is responsible? Do you need to fill out a form?

I was pleasantly surprised when a quick Google search of my campus website turned up a pretty direct link of what to do. But even with a detailed of list of how to report a sexual assault, there’s still the looming question: What next? For student survivors of sexual assault, there is reason to hope, but also reason to worry. 

The SaVe Act

Section 304 of the recently reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), called The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, aims to illuminate the grey area of reporting sexual violence on campus through four main principles: transparency, accountability, education, and collaboration.

The passage of an inclusive VAWA that includes protections for the LGBT community, immigrants, and Native Americans in addition to the SaVE Act for students is an important step in improving outdated and ineffective guidelines as well as ameliorating the shortcomings of campus responses to survivors.

UNC Chapel Hill

A recent example of university shortcomings making headlines is occurring at the University of North Carolina at Chapel in North Carolina. Student and sexual assault survivor Landen Gambill is facing possible expulsion.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The victim of a sexual assault is facing expulsion.

It gets worse. The reason?

She was “intimidating” her alleged rapist.

UNC’s definition of “intimidating” seems a bit flawed. Personally, I wouldn’t consider speaking out about one’s own sexual assault “intimidating.” Their definition needs some perspective. Not to mention that Gambill hasn’t even released the name of her attacker despite the media attention, allowing him to remain anonymous.

It’s clear that UNC has some improving to do when it comes to protecting their students who have experienced sexual violence. I want to commend Gambill and more than sixty fellow students and alumna who have taken the brave and necessary step to file a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Protecting All Students

I have great conviction that national initiatives such as the SaVE Act and community activism such as the bravery at UNC will lead U.S. colleges and universities to become safer spaces for students. We certainly can’t rest easy, however. While these are momentous steps in ending campus violence, we need to keep encouraging colleges across the country to fight for all victims. It’s easy for schools to focus on the common statistics of the women who are assaulted by men, but for schools to truly be successful in protecting each and every student, we need policies that protect all students, be they women or men, straight or identifying somewhere in the LGBT community, especially trans* victims who are already fighting for equality on campus. We must also stand strong with our fellow classmates who are survivors facing blame from fellow students, and even faculty. 

At our National Young Feminist Leadership Conference on March 23-25, we will be taking a head on approach to understanding violence against women and what we can do to end it. Make sure to register so you can be part of the discussion.

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