A victory at the University of Portland

5 03 2009

Last April, a female student at the University of Portland was raped by a male student in her dorm room after they were both drinking together at a party. When she came forward, the university took no action on investigating or persecuting the rape but instead threatened her with disciplinary action for underage drinking. This is completely absurd because underage drinking is not the issue at hand, rape is. Underage drinking should be irrelevant in sexual assault proceedings because the survivor has immunity protecting them from this as rape is the primary crime. Furthermore, bringing up underage drinking and using it against the survivor just perpetuates victim blaming (What was she doing drinking in the first place? She’s not even legally allowed to drink, and she should’ve known this was coming to her.)

A year after the assault, the student publicized her story in the campus newspaper and her efforts bore fruit. The university’s judicial coordinator wrote her a letter  saying that the two students’ drinking  made “consent – or lack of consent, difficult to determine” and “there are possible violations for which [the perpetrator] could be charged.” As of March 2nd, the university’s assault policy has changed to now read:

To foster the safety and security of the entire community, the University of Portland encourages reporting of all instances of sexual assault. However, no disciplinary action will be taken without the consent of the survivor. To remove barriers to reporting, the University will not pursue potential policy violations of the survivor which occurred in the context of the sexual assault. Likewise, the University will not pursue potential policy violations of a person who comes forward to report sexual assault.

This eliminates some of the victim-blaming bullshit that dominates discourses following sexual assaults and rapes. It grants survivors immunity against “potential policy violations” which makes coming forward easier, because in many cases survivors are afraid to report rapes because they fear and don’t want to be punished for underage drinking. Hopefully this sets a precedent for other universities (cough cough, Tufts) to improve their policies to make them more survivor-friendly.


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