Trigger Warning: Some of the content in this article may be disturbing to some readers. Please read at your own discretion or check out one of our other articles.
On Aug. 27, 2019, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill made an appearance at the N.C. Supreme Court to argue their case against disclosing campus sexual assault reports.
The case originated in 2016, when four local media outlets, including The Daily Tar Heel, sued the college for refusing to disclose the reports after Netflix’s “The Hunting Ground” fiasco in 2015 and a 2013 lawsuit from five women who claimed their sexual assault cases were mishandled by UNC-CH. A judge ruled in 2018 that UNC-CH had to disclose the records, but they appealed – and now we’re here.
UNC-CH’s main argument against revealing the records is privacy. The university claims that they want to protect the survivors’ privacy according to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. What they don’t mention, however, is that FERPA has exceptions for violence and sexual assault crimes.
Another issue, UNC-CH claims, is that survivors will be less likely to report their case if their names are available to the public. This argument is purely speculation and shouldn’t hold any weight in court; it’s also simply untrue. As we’ve seen with the #MeToo movement, survivors are more likely to reveal their story once they feel a sense of solidarity.
That aside, the four local media outlets who are suing aren’t targeting these records to reveal the names of survivors. They’re trying to hold UNC accountable for its history of reporting inaccurate numbers for campus sexual assault and ignoring Title IX requirements for cases, as occurred in the 2013 lawsuit. In order to properly hold them accountable, journalists need the facts, and UNC-CH knows this.
Until we hear the N.C. Supreme Court ruling, which could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months, it’s important that local survivors and allies make it clear to the university that we are done letting them pretend everything is fine.