Saturday, April 26, 2008

Catholic College Can't Tell Rape From Consent So ...

... The University of Portland judicial coordinator, Natalie Shank, acts as if it has been proven that what was reported as rape has been proven to be consensual sex.

Willamette Week has a story about the handling of a rape allegation at this Oregon university.

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.

If they have a de facto policy against extramarital sex what isn't in dispute is that this alleged rapist who claimed "it was consensual" violated this college's policy against extramarital sex.

Rapist or not, the man accused of rape committed sexual actions of his own free will. Yet this fact seems to have been lost on Ms. Shank.

Further, this alleged rapist admitted to not only sex, he admitted to drinking.

“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 [Amy] Kerns. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

This is an admission of sexual wrongdoing. He did "this" to her and he justified it in his own mind because he "didn't think it was that big of a deal..."

That's called rape.

This college woman asked her fellow student, whom she had known since high school, to walk her to her dorm building and she entered the building alone. Unfortunately there are still too many people who say that is code for "I'm consenting to have sex with you. Please sneak into my dorm room."

But that coded form of consent is only valid for those who say this is how they consent to sex.

If this man didn't think what he did was "that big of a deal" then it tells us a lot about the messages he received from this Catholic university about sex and consent. The University of Portland seems to have failed in educating him about their moral standards related to sex.

If the college cannot determine whether consensual sex or rape occurred -- either through lack of evidence or lack of investigative skills -- it is negligent for any representative of that college to treat the alleged rape victim as if that person wasn't raped.

If innocent until proven guilty is applied to alleged rapists then it must also be applied to those who report rape. That means the college and all college officials must treat this college woman as a genuine rape victim.

This is basic logic. Yet the attitude which assumes those who report rape are liars -- unless the reported rape is proven -- overwhelms logic.

“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.”

The college's official response is telling.

Ms. Shank verified part of the rape report and disproved none of it, yet she uses that limited verification as a reason to make it clear that the only person she believes did anything wrong is the woman who reported rape.

That is not the actions of someone unable to determine if a sexual assault occurred. That is the action of someone who -- self-admittedly without evidence -- has determined that no sexual assault occurred, but who doesn't come right out and make this accusation.

This echoes the attitudes which helped sexual predator Catholic priests to continue their abuse until the scandals and the civil court settlements made denial impossible. By reporting abuse the victims were admitting to extramarital sexual activity. Like this university official, church officials baselessly turned on those who reported rape in the name of morality.

The Pope recently spoke about making changes within the Catholic church so that the abuses of the past wouldn't happen again, but this action shows how entrenched the hostility is toward those who report sexual abuse and rape within Catholic institutions.

The University of Portland and Ms. Shank are the ones who committed possible violations. And they are the ones who make the Pope's words ring hollow.

Hat tip: Feministing

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:35 AM   3 comments links to this post


At April 27, 2008 5:31 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

It never ceases - so-called sexual morality always trumps male sexual violence. Always, always women or girls are blamed for men's and boys' sexual violence. So it is not surprising women and girls do not report rape because it is they who will be subjected to male-centered hyprocritical minute examination whilst the male rapist(s) actions and accountability will be ignored.

At February 26, 2009 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BRAVO. As a UP alum I salute you for posting this. I am deeply ashamed of my alma mater in this incident, and I plan to forward your post to all members of the administration.

At March 31, 2009 8:12 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

To the anonymous woman who posted on 3/30/09, while I rejected your comment here since it contained a personal attack against the woman mistreated by Portland University officials I have chosen to publish it and my response in a separate post because your attack repeats common themes which are used to justify personally attacking those who report rape.


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