| BLAMING THE VICTIM: Amy Kerns say the University of Portland’s suggestion that she could have been disciplined after reporting an alleged sexual assault that involved underage drinking was a “scare tactic.” |
Late at night two years ago, 19-year-old Amy Kerns was leaving an off-campus party near University of Portland when she asked a male student to escort her to her dormitory. The two friends had known each other since high school, and Kerns had once dated the young man’s best friend.
He says they then had consensual sex. She says he raped her.
The two-year-old conflict has fresh implications at the private Catholic university because some of UP’s 3,000 students are now struggling to make sure their school doesn’t go after victims of sexual assault if they were engaged in underage drinking when the alleged assault occurred.
The added twist? UP also frowns on extramarital sex, and some students want to ensure that stricture doesn’t make it harder for alleged victims of rape or assault to come forward and find support.
“The school owes it to the students to do everything they can to make sure rapes are reported,” says 20-year-old junior Devon Goss.
Kerns, who agreed to let WW publish her name and photograph, is among the vocal group of students who say there’s a problem.
On that late April night in 2006, Kerns says she said goodbye to the young man outside her residence hall. At 1:50 am, she showed her identification to the attendant at the front desk of her all-girls dorm. She went to check on her laundry downstairs, then returned to her private room. She says she then found the young man waiting for her in her room.
He says that’s not what happened. In a private Facebook message he later sent to Kerns, obtained by WW, the man, then a sophomore, says Kerns, then a freshman, actually helped him sneak into her dorm, violating the university’s prohibition on “inter-visitation” after 2 am on weekends.
Kerns says she had had one or two drinks. He says he was flat-out drunk, according to the Facebook messages.
She says the blood on her sheets, dress and the chair next to her bed—which she photographed and later showed to campus security—were evidence of a struggle. He says he was a virgin, that the blood was his, that he had torn his frenulum (a membrane on his penis) during intercourse, and that he continued to bleed the following day.
“I’m sorry I did this to you, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal and I cant [sic] change the past so all I can do is apologize,” the young man wrote in a private Facebook message to Kerns. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Immediately after the event, her friend made an anonymous call to campus police. It wasn’t until a year later that Kerns gave campus security the man’s name so it could issue a “no contact” order and investigate. That order meant the two were no longer able to talk, email, text message or call each other.
WW isn’t publishing the man’s name because no police or university charges have been brought. Nor was his name widely publicized as in a recent notorious case at Lewis & Clark College (“Trial by Facebook,” WW, Jan. 9, 2008).
The Beacon, UP’s student newspaper, reported April 10 on the case after Kerns came forward anonymously to criticize UP for not disciplining the man—and for other reasons. In making the university’s decision, UP judicial coordinator Natalie Shank suggested to Kerns that she could have been charged with violating university policies herself.
“Based upon my findings in my investigation, I am unable to determine if a sexual assault occurred,” Shank wrote May 3, 2007. “I have reason to believe that intercourse occurred, but both parties admit to drinking and therefore, consent—or lack of consent—is difficult to determine. Given these facts, there are possible violations for which you could be charged.”
In addition to prohibiting underage drinking, the university’s handbook finds that sexual intimacy outside of marriage is “considered antithetical to the community of the University of Portland.”
Lewis & Clark, Reed College and Portland State University do not discipline students for underage drinking when they come forward to report allegations of assault. Neither do Catholic schools such as Gonzaga University in Spokane, and Santa Clara University in California, or Notre Dame.
“Our policy is written to make the issue of the assault the most important,” says UP spokesman John Furey. But the school, he says, is not ready for an immunity clause.
“[Shank] decided since we were both drinking, rape couldn’t have occurred,” says Kerns, 21, who is taking time off from school and working as a waitress in North Portland. “It was like she was the one deciding consent—not me.”
FACT: University of Portland reported zero cases of sexual assault to federal authorities in 2006. Federal law requires that all reports of sex crimes, no matter the resolution, be counted among the statistics. UP says Kerns’ allegations will be reported in the upcoming 2007 statistics because that’s when Kerns gave school officials the name.