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UNC under investigation following sexual assault policy complaints

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A crowd of supporters rally on UNC's campus in support of a student who claims she was raped. A crowd of supporters rally on UNC's campus in support of a student who claims she was raped.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in regard to the way the University responded to sexual assault allegation.

The University said that it would "respond appropriately to [OCR's] requests and cooperate fully."

The letter, addressed to Chancellor Holden Thorp and dated March 1, references complaints received by the Office of Civil Rights about the University's response to sexual assault allegations.

"The Complainants allege the University failed to appropriately respond to concerns of sexual harassment, including sexual assault/sexual violence," the letter reads.

In response to the allegations, UNC News Services Director Karen Moon said "opening the allegation for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint."

Moon added, "During the investigation, OCR is a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence."

The OCR also says the complainants allege the University did not "provide appropriate grievance procedures regarding sexual harassment, including sexual assault/sexual violence," nor did it "provide adequate and impartial investigations of sexual harassment" or "provide appropriate training ... regarding sexual harassment, including sexual assault/sexual violence."

The University has until March 21 to respond to the OCR's requests.

Earlier this year, three students and alumna filed a complaint with the OCR on behalf of themselves and 64 other victims saying UNC's sexual assault policy is "unjust."

"It was a really hard semester. I didn't sleep, didn't eat, felt really anxious all the time," said sophomore Landen Gambill, one of the three students speaking out about the complaint. Gambill says she was abused during her freshman year.

Sexual assault is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as the most underreported violent crime in America.

"Violence is happening at UNC. No one is talking about it, and because no one is talking about it students don't feel empowered to report it," said junior Andrea Pino, another assault victim and complainant.

Gambill reported the problem to the University but says the University's procedure that followed was offensive and insensitive.

"It was traumatic. It was difficult -- one of the hardest couple of days of my life," Gambill said.

Gambill and Pino believe the University is more interested in quieting victims than seeking justice for them, because schools are required to report the number of violent crimes and the reports ultimately impact the school's reputation.

"I felt shamed, guilted, definitely not listened to," Gambill said of the university's process.

According to Huffington Post, UNC Associate Dean of Students Melinda Manning tendered her resignation in December, saying that sexual assault victims had been "asked inappropriate questions or have been blamed for the incident."

In one of the cases, Manning told Huffington Post, "it was judged because they had past consensual sex with that individual," meaning there was consent and therefore no assault.

Pino says UNC does not take an active and collective stand against sexual violence, nor does it educate victims about their rights and too often lets abusers and rapists off the hook.

Gambill's abuser withdrew from UNC but was never expelled or punished. In a statement to the University's student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, the lawyer representing the man accused of abusing Gambill called her accusations inaccurate and damaging.

According to the newspaper, the accused attacker was found not guilty of rape by a University Hearings Board.

Both Pino and Gambill said they want the Department of Education to investigate what they call the school's "unjust" sexual assault policy.

"I want to see the University, university administrators and the student body as a whole to take a collective and active stand against sexual violence. And I think in order to do that, that includes creating a sexual assault policy that does not protect rapists anymore," Gambill said.

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