9 Investigates: Does law aimed at protecting assault victims on college campuses fall short?

9 Investigates: Does law aimed at protecting assault victims on college campuses fall short?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s an alarming problem happening on college campuses: One in five women experience sexual assault, ranging from unwanted touching to rape. But many of the cases often go unreported.

There is a federal civil rights law, Title IX, that protects students, but some say it falls short.

Channel 9 anchor Allison Latos spent months investigating how universities handle these complaints. She talked to a student, a professor and an attorney who each think there are problems with the process.

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Melinda Manning is the director of the Beacon Program at UNC Health. For more than a decade, she worked directly with students who experienced sexual assault as assistant dean of students at UNC Chapel Hill.

Now, she’s an advocate who pushes for more Title IX transparency and training at all schools.

When a student files a complaint, their school investigates it and determines whether the accused student is responsible, and whether that person should face consequences.

“I think there is a lot of inconsistency from one campus to another in terms of what services they are making available to students, and how they respond to Title IX complaints from students,” Manning said.

One assault survivor said the system she turned to for help didn’t do enough. Frances Kendrick is an honors student at North Carolina A&T. She claims a fellow honors student sexually assaulted her last year. Kendrick pursued a Title IX case, but said it took nearly 200 days for her case to conclude.

“You feel like you have to choose between your own mental health, personal safety and getting an education,” she said.

She also said school officials did not provide adequate resources such as counseling or changing her on-campus housing.

“I still had to think about where I lay my head at night. The man who assaulted me and disrespected my body knows where I live,” she said.

Channel 9 asked the 16 schools in the University of North Carolina System how many Title IX cases have been investigated since 2012 and how many students were found responsible.

(WSOC)

At UNC Charlotte, 116 cases were investigated and 59 students were found responsible for sexual misconduct policy violations. Seven students were expelled, and 20 students were suspended.

One of the students expelled from UNCC was the football team’s quarterback, Kevin Olsen.

A female student accused Olsen of rape in 2017. Attorney George Laughrun represented him against the criminal rape charge and the Title IX case. Olsen was found not guilty by a jury, but the university expelled him for violating its sexual misconduct policy.

Laughrun said the rules for Title IX are different from those in court, and he worries that students don’t have enough protection.

Last summer, the Trump administration enacted new rules that universities must follow in Title IX cases. The changes include requiring live hearings with the opportunity for cross-examination of both the complainant and respondent, and that schools are only responsible for harassment that occurred on campus or through a school program or activity.

In Kendrick’s case at NC A&T, the Title IX board found the other student “not responsible.”

Kendrick appealed and lost. She also filed a complaint with the Federal Office of Civil Rights.

“I think my college experience shouldn’t have been this hard,” she said.

Now, she’s an activist, having created the group “Aggies without Fear.” She’s also started a petition calling for changes, which include making more resources on her campus available to victims.

Officials at NC A&T have not commented about Kendrick’s claims, but she told Channel 9 that she’s meeting with them this month to discuss her petition.

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