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Op-ed: Rape culture is pervasive, ingrained and extends well beyond BYU

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 10:00 pm

While BYU's decision to discipline rape victims for Honor Code violations is horrific, the public reaction towards both BYU and its victims indicate that very little will change. Despite mass outcry, BYU's decision to protect rapists acts as a microcosm of American rape culture, which silences victims and protects sexual predators. While it's easy to dismiss BYU as just a particularly misogynistic environment, there is no "just world" for women, especially those who survive sexual assault.

Refusing to postpone or eliminate Honor Code cases for rape survivors seems archaic, but it's just a form of institutionalized victim-blaming, all the nasty and anti-women rhetoric we see spewed online and in political debates codified under the guise of an "Honor Code." When BYU's Title IX Coordinator Sarah Westerberg allegedly claims that BYU "does not apologize" for preventing women from reporting assaults, she implies that if students simply follow the school's code of conduct, women won't be raped. But Westerberg is not alone. Americans want to believe that if we control women's bodies — how they dress, where they go and how they engage socially — we can somehow prevent rape without ever addressing the sexism hiding under the bed.



Outside BYU, similar arguments are presented in a majority of rape cases, in which defense attorneys scrutinize the victim's clothing, blood-alcohol level or physical location at the time of assault. And despite a feverish effort on social media to educate everyone on victim blaming and rape culture, research conducted by attorney Julie Wright indicates that jurors in rape cases still frequently distrust the victim based on a "just world" hypothesis. People, regardless of where they work or go to school, simply do not want to believe bad things can happen to "good people." Thus, the rape survivors must somehow be complicit in their attack, either due to their own promiscuity, decision to let their rapist into their homes or by violating the Honor Code.

Even more disturbing? According to the Department of Justice, one in six women have been a victim of rape, with 97 percent of accused rapists never seeing a conviction or jail time. Faced with the staggering realization that rape is a viable, borderline-inevitable threat, Wright found that female jurors often contribute to a woman's victimization, choosing to discredit the victim instead of punishing the rapist.

It seems counter-intuitive, ignorant or even vicious, but it is just pure terror and self-protection. Faced with a situation where they could just as easily be the victim, knowing that their hypothetical rapist will likely not be punished and that the justice system will not protect them, women often discredit the victim out of fear. Rape culture creates a horribly mutated coping mechanism based on the hope-turned-belief that a similar crime couldn't happen to you, so long as you follow an arbitrary set of societal rules designed to both subjugate and protect.

This same phenomenon probably occurs in the micro-universe that is the BYU campus. Parents assure themselves that their daughter will never face a rape trial and Honor Code investigation simultaneously, since their daughter would never spent the night in a male's apartment. This means they will be completely safe from sexual assault. Similarly, roommates of rape victims comfort themselves by refusing to wear the type of "immodest" clothing their friend wore the night she was raped.

We should be outraged, but not surprised, to learn that Utah County Sheriff deputy Edwin Randolph submitted a rape victim's case file to the Honor Code Office, prompting an investigation of the victim. Randolph, who maintains a personal relationship with the student's rapist, claims the victim was "screwing around...when I was a BYU student, we had guys get in trouble for this stuff, so I think it's a problem."

The "stuff" Randolph refers to are false-rape accusations, the boogeyman in the night that haunts a certain type of heterosexual man — men who inexplicably believe women are out to destroy their lives after a sexual encounter. And yet, FBI reports indicate that only 2 percent to 8 percent of rape claims are unfounded. One in six women will experience rape, but men like Randolph and his contemporaries are content to deny women justice in order to protect the 2 percent of men who face a false accusation.

In the end, evidence, statistics, and human decency don't seem to matter in preventing and seeking justice for sexual assault. BYU is no different. BYU is merely reflecting (and benefiting) from a justice system and culture that extends far beyond Provo. Until we abandon our false sense of security and faith in a "just world" that does not exist, all of us, not just BYU, contribute to the victimization of women — and not just those who signed the Honor Code.

Stephanie Lauritzen teaches AP U.S. History and lives in Salt lake City.

 

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