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Former student Madi Barney’s complaint spurs federal investigation into BYU’s handling of sex-assault reports

First Published      Last Updated Dec 24 2016 05:15 pm


Investigation » Current and former students said they were disciplined by the Mormon church-owned school after they reported assaults against them.

The federal government is investigating Brigham Young University after receiving a complaint from a former student about how the school handles reports of sexual assault.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) informed BYU officials last week of the investigation into Madi Barney's case, according to a news release from the school, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Multiple current and former students have told The Salt Lake Tribune that they were investigated or disciplined for violations of the school's Honor Code as a result of disclosing sexual assaults against them. BYU's Honor Code outlines a detailed dress code, regulates when and where male and female students may visit one another in their homes, forbids alcohol and coffee, and requires students to remain chaste.




In April, Barney, then a BYU student, said she filed a complaint with federal investigators after she was forbidden from enrolling in classes unless she cooperated with an investigation into her conduct in connection to a rape allegation she made in September. Prosecutors advised her not to participate in a school investigation while criminal charges are pending against the suspect in her case.

Twelve students have told The Tribune they learned they would be subject to investigations by the school's Honor Code Office after they reported sexual assaults. BYU in May announced it was forming an advisory council to study the school's handling of sexual-assault reports.

BYU said federal privacy laws restrict it from disclosing details of the complaint that led to the federal scrutiny. Barney confirmed late Monday that her complaint was the one that prompted the investigation, and she's happy to hear it's happening.

"I'm hoping it'll pressure them," Barney said. "I'm getting really frustrated because they're putting on this face that they're doing something by having this study, but they're not changing anything. I'm hoping the OCR will hold them accountable."

The LDS Church declined to comment Monday night on the federal investigation into BYU's conduct.

The Provo school is the second Utah college in recent weeks to be investigated under Title IX, a law that forbids sexual discrimination at all universities that receive federal funding.

Federal directives require schools to establish processes for investigating assault allegations. Investigators last month announced they were reviewing practices at the University of Utah after a student complained that her case took more than a year to resolve. Westminster College, a Salt Lake City liberal arts school, has been under investigation since January 2015 over its handling of sex-assault reports.

Federal investigations are pending at 202 schools nationwide, BYU officials said.

"Our continued emphasis will be on providing our students with the support they need, as well as an understanding of the Title IX process," said Janet Scharman, BYU's vice president of student life and chairwoman of the advisory council on sexual assault, in the news release.

The council "will evaluate the impact the OCR investigation may have on its own study," Scharman said.

ealberty@sltrib.com

Twitter: @erinalberty

 

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