Brigham Young University students who are victims of sex crimes say they are investigated by the school and sometimes disciplined after reporting their abuse, a consequence that critics say silences victims and emboldens offenders.
At colleges nationwide, student victims are encouraged to report sexual assaults to schools’ Title IX officers, charged with enforcing a federal law that guarantees students don’t face hostility on campus based on their gender.
But multiple students say that at BYU — a private university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Title IX staff routinely alert the Honor Code Office.
Students say Honor Code involvement means a victim who reports an assault faces possible punishment if she or he was breaking curfew, violating the dress code, using drugs or alcohol or engaging in consensual sexual contact — all banned by the code of conduct — before an attack.
In a statement, BYU said a student “will never be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault,” and that its Honor Code proceedings are “independent and separate” from Title IX investigations.
But multiple BYU students investigated by the school’s Honor Code Office disagree, saying they were scrutinized as a result of reporting a sex crime. In some cases described by past and current students, Honor Code investigations were launched even when the accused assailants were not BYU students — the alleged victim being the sole possible target.
Student Madi Barney, whose rape allegation has led to a criminal case in Provo, last week spoke at a rape awareness conference on campus and challenged BYU’s investigation of victims. Her future enrollment at BYU is on hold pending an Honor Code investigation into her case.
“I said, ‘I’d like to propose that victims of sexual violence have some kind of immunity clause from the Honor Code, because it creates a hostile environment for victims who think they’re going to get in trouble for reporting.’ Everyone clapped,” said Barney, who agreed to the use of her name by The Tribune.
Investigating students who report violent crimes is “a misplaced priority” that keeps schools from confronting sexual violence, said S. Daniel Carter, a campus security consultant who helped author federal laws that require colleges to track and report crimes on campus.
Title IX does not prohibit punishing students who report an assault for violating other school rules, but “it’s not best practices,” he said.
“It’s hurtful to survivors, and most significantly it’s the kind of thing that will have a chilling effect on survivors coming forward. It’s contrary to an institution’s goal of combating sexual violence. Do you want to remove violent predators from your campus or do you want to penalize victims for minor violations?”