Woman says she was raped while a UNC student, urged not to press - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Woman says she was raped while a UNC student, urged not to press charges

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A former student at the University of North Carolina claims she was raped while a student in Chapel Hill, and she says local police encouraged her not to press forward after the matter.

"I was brutally raped and beaten, during the course of which I lost consciousness," Jane told WNCN, which is not revealing her identity because of the nature of the attack.

Jane, which is not her real name, has her story and the hospital records to back it up -- bruises on her neck and claw marks on her back. But she said at the time, 20 years ago, she was unsure whether or not to go to the police.

"Just your general fears about, you know, if I come forward is there going to be retaliation against me or is anything actually going to be done?" she said. "It took me a few days, but finally, with the help of friends, I gathered the strength to go to the police."

She went to the Chapel Hill Police Department, because she says the rape was off campus. But she says she felt like police were not a responsive as they should have been.

"I feel like I was just completely and totally shot down," she said. She said she was told, "The defense attorneys are going to find everything you've ever done bad in your past, they're going to find every person you've ever slept with, they're going to do everything they can to destroy your character."

She continued, "I was also told, because I was underage drinking, that if I did press charges that this would become public. Therefore the fact that I was underage drinking at a bar would become public knowledge and therefore legally they would have to do something about that as well."

She said she felt the police encouraged her not to file a report.

"And then I just left there crushed, because I felt like no one wanted to help me," she said. So Jane left the police department and, fearing retaliation, never filed a report. As a result, Chapel Hill Police have nothing on record about Jane's visit.

Sgt. Josh Mecimore said Chapel Hill Police are not instructed to warn people of the consequences of filing a report. He said that while there have been changes in the way they handle rape reports, even 20 years ago, the rules were clear.

"We try as an agency to recognize the stresses that that puts on a victim," he said. "And that's why we have these resources in place, and have for so many years, to try to make sure that we're helping those people who are victimized come forward."

UNC is currently dealing with a public relations nightmare. The U.S. Department of Education is investigating multiple complaints about how the school handles sexual assault reports.

In response, Carolina brought in Gina Maisto Smith, a nationally renowned expert when it comes to sexual assault. The University asked Smith to come to campus, diagnose the problem and find a solution.

In an interview, Smith described the UNC campus as "engaged in this issue." But she also admitted there are problems at UNC. When WNCN showed her Jane's story, she nodded her head often.

"I have walked with thousands of sexual assault complainant survivors over the years, and what I heard in that video is not unusual," she said.

She said young women have "often" told her they were afraid to come forward, and that stories of social intimidation, and even intimidation from authorities, are "not unusual."

Smith said the way to encourage people to come forward is "by having process and delivery of service that individuals can trust."

She called UNC "a safe place" and has given the University a list of recommendations for changing, including updating their policy on sexual assaults, which was updated as recently as August 2012.

Smith says UNC faces the same challenges that other colleges and universities face across the country. What's different, she said, is Carolina is under a microscope.

There are also some at Carolina who have shared their stories. UNC student Landen Gambill spoke out on campus about how she was treated after she said she had been raped. She later said she faced an honor court charge for "intimidating" the student who she says raped her.

UNC later suspended that honor court proceeding.

The controversy on campus has women like Jane ready to speak out for the first time in two decades.

"I was strong enough to go to the police," Jane said. "There are so many girls out there that aren't strong enough, and now looking at this situation with this other girl and everything she's going through.

"What girl's going to come forward?"

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