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‘I thought I was the only one’: BYU protesters say they’ve been shamed by Honor Code practices, demand change

First Published      Last Updated Jul 28 2017 05:31 pm

School official meets with demonstrators and vows to review the existing system.

Provo • Brittyn Coleman stood somberly in front of the welcome sign at Brigham Young University's campus Wednesday, a teal armband — the symbol of sexual violence prevention — tied around her mouth.

The gesture seemed appropriate, Coleman said, because she kept silent about being raped by a BYU student when she was in high school about six years ago.

Now 22, Coleman said she will remain silent no longer.

"It's important that people know they're not the only ones," Coleman said. "For a long time, I thought I was the only one."

Katina Parker-Phillpotts said she was sexually assaulted in 1993 while attending BYU. The attack happened on a hill above campus that became known colloquially as "rape hill," she said, because so many attacks happened there.

She never reported the attack. A friend who was sexually assaulted around that time was expelled from the private school after an Honor Code review, Parker-Phillpotts said.

Coleman and Parker-Phillpotts were among 40 protesters unhappy Wednesday with the Provo school's handling of sexual assault cases.

Some joined Coleman wearing armbands, while others held signs that read "end rape culture" and "BYU: Protect victims, don't shame them."

The protesters walked onto campus to deliver a petition with the signatures of more than 90,000 people who say the school should amend its Honor Code policies with an amnesty clause protecting victims of sexual assault.

President Kevin Worthen was not available, but Academic Vice President Brent Webb said he would make sure he saw it.

"We welcome you here, and we thank you for your concern," Webb said.

BYU this week said it is considering changes and will review the relationship between its Title IX department — federally charged with ensuring students don't face sex discrimination — and its Honor Code Office.

In a video statement released earlier Wednesday, Worthen described what he hopes that process yields.

"I hope we have a system that people feel they can trust, particularly again the victims of sexual assault. And that we have one that creates an environment in which we minimize the number of sexual assaults."

The online petition was started last week by Madi Barney, who said the private school launched an Honor Code investigation into her conduct after acquiring records related to her sexual assault, which she reported to Provo police.

BYU's Honor Code forbids students from drinking, using drugs, wearing form-fitting clothing or engaging in premarital sex. Students who do not meet the conduct standards may be expelled from school.

Before leading the walk onto campus, organizer Kelsey Bourgeois, with online petition site Care2, asked who in the crowd has experienced victim-shaming or blaming. About 20 people raised their hands — including Coleman.

Coleman, who is from Provo, was 16 when, she said, a blind date with a BYU student got out of hand. She never went to police for fear her parents would find out.

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The Honor Code and sexual assault at BYU

Tell the Tribune: Have you or someone you know experienced a sexual assault at BYU?

April 12 » BYU students who are victims of sex crimes say they are investigated by the school and sometimes disciplined after reporting their abuse, and that in such cases the school’s Title IX office reflexively alerts the Honor Code Office.

April 14 » A BYU student whose sexual-assault report led to an Honor Code Office review garners tens of thousands of signatures supporting her demand that BYU change its practices.

April 15 » Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson says BYU jeopardizes a pending rape prosecution because the Honor Code Office — after obtaining the police file from a Utah County sheriff’s deputy who knew the suspect — refuses to delay its own case against the alleged victim.

April 15 » Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman counters his prosecutor’s opinion that BYU’s Honor Code Office was threatening a pending rape prosecution with its probe into the victim’s actions. Buhman said he dropped a witness retaliation charge against a Utah County sheriff’s deputy because of information he learned from an inadmissible internal affairs investigation.

April 16 » The Tribune’s editorial board calls on BYU to maintain its standards without revictimizing students who have been sexually abused.

April 18 » BYU said its Title IX investigators, charged with protecting students from sex discrimination, sometimes refer sexual assault victims to the Honor Code Office for investigation of their conduct, and announces that it will review “potential structural changes” in light of public concern.