BYU Pressured To Stop Punishing Rape Victims After They Report Their Assaults

More than 13,000 people have signed an online petition calling on Brigham Young University to provide immunity for students who report being sexually assaulted.

Under current policy, the university investigates students who report sexual assault for violations of the school’s strict honor code, which bans premarital sex, same-sex dating, alcohol consumption and being in the bedroom of someone of the opposite sex, among other things. This means a student who reports a sexual assault could end up being placed on probation, suspended or expelled if BYU finds them to have been in violation of the honor code.

BYU is a private school based on Provo, Utah, and is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to simply as the Mormon church. 

The issue came to light after a campus rape awareness event held last week. Multiple people wrote at the Mormon blog By Common Consent that the BYU Title IX coordinator said “we do not apologize” for enforcing the honor code against students who report being sexually assaulted. As blogger Steve Evans explained, this means that “if you’ve been raped while in your boyfriend’s bedroom, you’re in trouble. If you were drinking at a party and were raped, you’re in trouble.”

The petition’s author, Madi Barney, said that at the rape awareness event, the Title IX coordinator admitted “that the honor code has a ‘chilling effect’ on reporting of rape.” She also said she felt like she was “being treated not as the victim, but as a perpetrator,” and that “BYU has made it clear that victims will be punished if they report sexual violence.”

“When I sought out resources from BYU, the Title IX coordinator told me that there wasn’t enough proof of the assault to grant me those resources,” Barney, an undergrad at BYU, writes in her petition. “She also informed me that the Honor Code Office is putting a hold on my academic career by not allowing me to register for any future classes.”

“But this crime is going to trial, my rapist has been charged, and my rapist has confessed in a recorded phone call,” she continues. “I am shocked that the person whose job it is to help victims like me [is] doubting me and threatening me with retribution.”

An article this week in The Salt Lake Tribune describes multiple women who say they were sexually assaulted and that after reporting their incidents to police, BYU’s Honor Code office investigated them — the women, that is — for breaking school policies.

BYU declined to discuss individual cases, but told The Huffington Post in a statement that a rape victim will never be “referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault.” That doesn’t, however, rule out the possibility that a rape victim will be punished because of the circumstances under which his or her assault took place.

“A Title IX investigation at BYU is separate from the Honor Code process,” university spokeswoman Carri P. Jenkins said. “The purpose of the Title IX investigation is to investigate the sexual assault, not other Honor Code violations.”

However, Jenkins acknowledged to HuffPost that “in some cases, an Honor Code review could follow the Title IX investigation.”



Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter who covers higher education and sexual violence, and is based in New York. You can reach him at [email protected], or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

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