Officials at North Carolina’s flagship public university Thursday disputed claims the school underreported sexual assaults in 2010 to keep from looking bad.
The allegations contained in a complaint to the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and reported by the student newspaper “are false, they are untrue and they are just plain wrong,” Leslie Strohm, the top attorney at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told campus trustees.
Strohm and Chancellor Holden Thorpe said they had not seen the complaint filed earlier this month and did not know its specifics.
A copy of the report was obtained by The Daily Tar Heel, which reported last week that four current and former students and former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning accused the school of underreporting sexual assault cases for 2010 in an annual report to the federal government on campus crime. The complaint also alleged that campus officials allowed a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault, the campus newspaper reported.
Manning, who resigned in December, did not respond to a request by The Associated Press that she provide a copy of the complaint other than to say it was not a public document. Annie Clark, former UNC student among the group of women filing the complaint, said the focus of university officials Thursday addressed only a small part of the complaint which she refused to provide to The Associated Press.
“The complaint is much beyond that and they chose to focus on a singular issue. It’s a lot broader,” said Clark, a 2011 graduate who lives in Eugene, Ore. “It’s more of a culture.”
An Education Department spokesman confirmed the agency’s civil rights office received a complaint against UNC-Chapel Hill which is being evaluated to see if the allegations are sufficient to launch an investigation, which could take about a month. Copies of federal complaints are typically not public record until after they are closed. The Education Department’s civil rights office received nearly 100 complaints of sexual violence and launched dozens of investigations over a three-year period, according to a report published in June.
Strohm sought to refute the underreporting claim by pointing to the annual campus crime report as disclosing 19 cases of forcible sex offense on school grounds in 2010, and another four at off-campus locations. Strohm also handed trustees a Sept. 13, 2011, email sent by Manning as the crime report for 2010 was being produced. Manning said she counted four cases that happened in fraternity halls and other off-campus buildings, 10 in residence halls, and two others in other campus locations.
The school includes information collected from local police departments, and the 23 cases UNC-CH reported were more than the 16 counted by Manning in her email, Strohm said.
“The facts are these: the office of university counsel reported every single sex offense that Melinda Manning said there was, plus seven additional sex offenses we gathered from our outreach,” Strohm said.
Trustees noted that the 2010 totals were a big jump over the eight sexual assaults reported in 2009 and six in 2008, but administrators were unable to provide a reason.
“Sexual assaults are notoriously underreported,” vice chancellor for student affairs Winston Crisp said. “So it is difficult to know when you have increases whether that means it’s an increase in actual sexual violence or it’s an increase in reporting. We’ve worked hard over the years to encourage more reporting.”
The university reported 12 cases of forcible sex offense in 2011, all of them on campus, according to the school’s most recent crime report.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio