Senior Tory Kern filed a report with University of Rhode Island Police on March 4, 2015, after feeling threatened by one of the two registered male sex offenders on campus.
This was not the first time she had filed a complaint with the university about this man, who is a level-two registered sex offender, meaning he is at “moderate risk” for being a repeat offender. According to URI police reports from spring 2014, female students and one staff member have made multiple reports regarding the same man on campus.
That report was just one part of a larger situation Kern has been dealing with since her freshman year. After her police report was mentioned in a The Good 5 Cent Cigar article from March 26, “Criminal offenders receive education at URI,” Kern decided it was time to share her story.
The original article cited Dean of Admissions Cynthia Bonn saying she has never reviewed an application for a registered sex offender. Bonn said this could be possible if an applicant lied on their application in the disciplinary history section. Normally, if such a record was indicated, the university would look further into the case and meet with the applicant.
After reading the article, Kern said she was surprised and concerned with some of the responses of her peers, which motivated her to share her experience. Kern said she feels, as a community, URI needs to do a better job handling cases like her own and raise more awareness.
“Sadly, bringing up my story to university police and school officials – not entirely, but mostly – added to my trauma,” Kern said. “They’re all trying to help me, they just don’t have the right system in place.”
The summer before her freshman year, Kern said she was sitting in a pew alone at a local church when a man in his 40s came and sat down next to her. She said he seemed to take an interest in her and told her he was also a student at URI, and in the following days he continued to try and talk to her. Later on, one of her friends informed her the man who had spoken to her was a registered sex offender.
Now a senior, Kern said she has had multiple encounters on campus with this man over the past four years, where he has allegedly approached her with comments and questions that have made her feel extremely uncomfortable.
According to her, he would ask her repeatedly to go places with him, and give her unwelcomed compliments. At first, she only felt “creeped out”, but then she started seeing him in many places on campus. The first time was at a student club meeting where she was able to avoid him, but soon after she had another encounter. This time she said he approached her on the quad and kept trying to guess her name and saying he knew her, when she kept telling him he did not. She said he eventually walked away but sat right behind where she was. A similar event happened after a night time lecture, when he again approached and kept calling her again, saying he knew who she was. He also appeared a few times at sporting events she was attending. Kern was never assaulted or approached by him in any ways other than these. She said the fact that he was a registered sex offender who knew who she was and had taken an interest in her made her feel extremely uncomfortable on campus, because she did not know what he was capable of.
“I learned I wasn’t safe from him in meetings for student organizations, the dining halls, at sporting events, in classes, at nighttime lectures or on the quad,” said Kern. “My ability to feel safe anywhere was dwindling at an unbearable rate and I was terrified.”
After these several encounters, Kern said she decided to reach out to university officials for help. She first did so in October 2013 when she filed a harassment complaint with the Office of Student Life. Kern worked with many different university officials through student life, but felt there was a serious lack of communication between them all.
“Some university officials said they couldn’t do anything, except talk with him, have me talk to a crisis counselor or issue a dual no contact order,” said Kern. “Imagine my fear in having a dual no contact order that would give this man my full name, something I hoped he did not know.”
Kern said she was persistent with university officials in the Office of Student Life and the URI police and also made a police report to the South Kingstown Police Department. The South Kingstown Police Department filed a police report and to Kern’s knowledge, only shared the report with the URI police.
“Current university policies seemed to require that something more severe needed to happen, as if the predatory behavior this man was displaying was harmless,” she said.
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Mary Jo Gonzales, said the Office of Student Life is unable to discuss specific cases due to FERPA and privacy rights.
“Any student who experiences sexual and gender violence, harassment or assault can access a variety of services on campus,” said Gonzales. She said those include Violence Prevention and Advocacy Services and the Office of Title IX Coordinator, Roxanne Gomes.
“Trained professionals in the Office of Student Life investigate to determine if a violation of community standards or university policy has taken place,” said Gonzales. “Once that determination is made, sanctions ranging from warning to permanent dismissal may be applied.”
Kern said to her knowledge, no action to officially warn the student or remove him has been taken in her case, but she did say officials have spoken with the offender on multiple occasions.
Kern filed a dual no contact order this year and worked with the URI police and campus officials to put the information of registered sex offenders directly on the department’s website in August of 2014, which before then was not easily accessible. URI is the only college or university in Rhode Island to take such a step. Before this there was only a link to the RI Parole Board site, which simply brought up the information on all sex offenders in Rhode Island. As mentioned in the previous article, in accordance with the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act of 2000, educational institutions must provide the community with directions to where they can find further information on registered sex crime offenders.
Although this was her main goal, she has continued to work to see better examination of registered sex offenders before being admitted to the school, more campus outreach and education on sexual harassment and violence, and better communication in the URI community as a whole.
“I do agree that education should be available to everyone…as long as the campus properly notifies us and does not tolerate or enable behaviors that interfere with the health, safety and well being of others on campus, but URI does not currently do that,” said Kern. “As students, we can speak out about what we need from each other and from our university leaders in order for everyone to feel safe.”