Why BYU should stop punishing sexual assault victims
Brigham Young University cannot catch a break.
Just last week, the American Bar Association agreed to formally review a case involving religious discrimination.
The accused? Brigham Young University, a private institution associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Irony isn’t always funny.
The same week, students complained that BYU, a school whose focus is “to provide an education in an atmosphere consistent with the ideals and principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” is punishing women who report sexual assault.
Madi Barney reported being raped during her sophomore year at BYU. She reported the incident to Provo police, who are investigating the case. However, the university received word of the assault, and Barney said they placed a hold on her class registration pending an investigation into whether she violated the Honor Code.
As I said, irony isn’t always funny.
In this case, irony is disconcerting, shocking and infuriating. BYU should address concerns raised regarding the handling to sexual assault and revise the Honor Code accordingly.
Sexual assault is already a stigmatized issue that is difficult to discuss. As a student who believes universities should be safe and open spaces for its students, BYU’s policy angers me.
To imply any blame on the victim during a discussion of sexual assault is to miss the point entirely. No action or inaction, no act of deviance — no Honor Code violation — could justify sexual assault.
Lack of reporting is already a serious problem when it comes to rape and assault.
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network reported that as of 2012, only 30 percent of sexual assaults have been reported to police. More concerning is that only 7 percent led to a conviction.
When evidence indicates that underreporting of assault is already rife, it seems in poor taste to further humiliate and stigmatize survivors. BYU is adding insult to injury.
Universities should make students feel comfortable and safe. They should act as catalysts for justice and change.
BYU is acting as a hurdle.
So why are victims being investigated?
BYU is a private institution and has a right to make it’s own rules. Defenders (read: apologists) of BYU will argue that this simply isn’t happening and the student is lying. Indeed, BYU’s initial defense was that Honor Code investigations are completely separate from allegations of sexual assault.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to dismiss the claims of undergraduate students as exaggerated or otherwise made-up. Luckily, there are a group of individuals who BYU officials will actually listen to and take seriously: attorneys.
Craig Johnson, a deputy attorney for Utah County, recently told The Salt Lake Tribune that his case with a victim had been compromised by an Honor Code investigation of the victim.
After repeatedly denying Barney’s claims, BYU finally acknowledged students are sometimes referred to the Honor Code Office following a report of sexual assault.
BYU? Or CYA?
It seems as if BYU is more concerned with saving face than students.
The Scarlet Letter, written in 1850 by Nathaniel Hawthorne, highlights the consequences, intended or otherwise, of living in a pious society that shames and silences social deviants.
Two centuries later, we are living in the same society.
Brigham Young University — which, at this point, could more aptly be named The Scarlet Letter Revisited — should refrain from punishing victims of sexual assault and should reconsider its Honor Code policy.
If BYU hopes to catch a break, it will need to catch up with the times first.