Students at flagship Mormon college Brigham Young University (BYU) are speaking out against their school for unfairly disciplining survivors of rape, accusing officials of forcing victims to undergo Honor Code investigations simply for reporting sexual assault.
In a chilling new report from the Salt Lake Tribune, several BYU students allege that the university often forces people who report sexual assault to endure Honor Code investigations, a practice they say harms rape victims and discourages them from telling officials about attacks. The conservative Mormon school outlaws the use of alcohol and drugs by students, meaning those who report rape to Title IX representatives — federally mandated staff responsible for handling sexual assault cases at colleges — are sometimes also referred to BYU’s Honor Code Office if their story involves actions or substances banned by the school. According to the Code, violating the school’s dress rules, breaking curfew, “homosexual behavior,” engaging in consensual sex and “any other conduct or action inconsistent with the principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is grounds for disciplinary action.
Madi Barney, a BYU sophomore who recently filed a rape allegation that resulted in a criminal case, said her status at BYU is still pending as she awaits the results of an Honor Code investigation.
I was raped, and I waited four days to report because I was so terrified about my standing at BYU.
“You still get investigated. That’s what’s so frustrating,” Barney, who gave the Tribune permission to use her full name, said. “I was raped, and I waited four days to report because I was so terrified about my standing at BYU.”
Barney is one of several other students who say the college effectively punishes people who come forward with their stories, including one who woman who says she was kicked out of school because officials learned she was on acid during her alleged rape. They argue the school should grant immunity to those who file sexual assault allegations.
But at a recent rape awareness conference at BYU, the school’s Title IX coordinator Sarah Westerberg said her office would “not apologize” for referring abuse cases to the Honor Code Office for additional discipline.
“In a room full of rape survivors, she said, ‘We do not apologize for this,’” Barney said. “I said, ‘You don’t apologize for threatening to kick a rape victim out of school?’”
Although criticism of BYU’s disciplinary procedures regarding sexual assault is new, debate over how to enforce of theological moral codes without hurting rape victims is widespread among conservative religious colleges. In 2014, students at Bob Jones University, a deeply conservative Christian college, told Al Jazeera that school officials responded to rape allegations by telling victims they should repent for their sins and forgive their attackers. Various other reports have revealed similar practices at other schools such Pensacola Christian College (PCC), where three students claimed they were expelled simply for falling victim to rape.
In one harrowing account, a PCC student claimed that her boyfriend grabbed her, dragged her into a construction area, beat her, restrained her with a bungee cord and duct tape, and then raped her. A campus security guard eventually found her and reported the incident, but the dean of women reportedly told her shortly thereafter that she was expelled for being a “fornicator.”
According to her account, the school took no action against her alleged attacker. He eventually graduated with honors, and now serves as a pastor.