The Salt Lake Tribune chooses Madi Barney, who pushed for change at BYU, as Utahn of the Year

Through public statements and formal complaints, the former BYU student drew attention to campus rape and spurred Honor Code changes at the Mormon school.

When Madi Barney reported being raped to Provo police in September 2015, she was scared. Afraid of being punished. Fearful of how officials at Brigham Young University, where she was a student, would respond.

But as months passed, as she was placed under investigation for possible violations of the Mormon school's Honor Code, as she was forbidden to enroll in future classes unless she cooperated with school authorities, Barney's fear turned to resolve.

At a rape awareness forum in April, the sophomore took a mic and publicly confronted BYU's Title IX coordinator, who oversees the school's sexual assault investigations. Prosecuting rape, Barney said, was more important than enforcing rules about coffee, alcohol, dress length, curfew or chastity.

Barney took her seat amid her classmates' applause, not knowing that she had broken a dam of silence.

Each December, Salt Lake Tribune editors recognize an individual or group who — for better or for worse — has led, pushed boundaries, influenced public policy and changed hearts and minds. Without question, Madi Barney is The Salt Lake Tribune's Utahn of the Year.

In 2016, Barney transformed the conversation on campus rape in Utah and emerged as a powerful voice in the nationwide debate on sex crime, one that has bounced from Stanford's Brock Turner to Baylor University to Donald Trump. Perhaps most important, she started a dialogue in which many victims shared their accounts of sexual violence for the first time publicly.

In the weeks following that campus forum, more than 50 current and former students revealed to The Tribune accounts of sexual abuse at BYU. A majority had never reported the crimes, many citing fears of Honor Code retaliation. Twelve who did report said they faced interrogations loaded with a presumption of guilt, and that sex crime investigations often transformed into chastity investigations against them.

Several students — and police — reported that assailants explicitly used the threat of Honor Code discipline to discourage them from reporting. LGBT students said they faced special risks, as predators have recognized their vulnerability under the school's ban on "all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual behavior."

Barney launched an online petition demanding that BYU stop punishing students who report sexual assault; more than 117,000 people signed it.

She then filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, which began investigating how BYU handled Barney's case. BYU is the third university in Utah to be added to a list of about 200 colleges facing review under Title IX, the law that forbids sex-based discrimination at all schools that receive federal funding.

State investigators are reviewing the certification of a Utah County sheriff's deputy who gave Barney's police records to the school officials, prompting Barney's discipline. A separate state investigation is reviewing how BYU's police department — authorized by the state with full policing powers — uses other agencies' investigative records. Internal BYU records leaked to The Tribune show that a campus police lieutenant used his access to a shared records system to search Provo's records in Barney's rape case after an Honor Code investigator asked him for more information. The lieutenant then shared intimate details from Barney's sexual assault medical exam with the Honor Code Office. Both state investigations are still pending. A trial is pending in Barney's rape case.

However, one point of the controversy appears to have been resolved: In October, BYU announced sweeping changes in how it will respond to students who report sexual assault, saying it will restructure the school's Title IX Office and grant amnesty to victims who disclose Honor Code violations.

The school announced that Title IX staff will ensure that information they receive from alleged victims will not be shared with the Honor Code Office without their consent. Students who report sexual assaults will no longer face having their conduct at the time questioned for possible Honor Code violations.

Similar changes are under review at BYU campuses in Idaho and Hawaii.

Events at BYU preceded a wider soul-searching on rape culture in Utah. Sex assault issues gained a higher profile at other Utah schools — especially at Utah State University, where a flood of allegations has led to rape charges against former Aggies and Atlanta Falcons football player Torrey Green. Meanwhile, victims and victim advocates pointed to dated but still-circulated teachings by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which suggest that rape deprives a woman of her "virtue," and Mormon cultural norms that hold women responsible for tempting male sexuality.

Madi Barney went to police with no plan to fight Utah's cultural views of sexual violence.

But by speaking publicly and persistently, Barney did more than expose a serious safety problem in Provo. She provoked substantial institutional reforms that have signaled to the broader Utah community a need for new attitudes and approaches toward sexual assault.

"It's hard to be so exposed," Barney told The Tribune this week. "It's hard having no privacy in one of the most private matters of my life. But, you know, it was a sacrifice that I felt like I had to make, to make these changes happen at BYU. If I hadn't spoken out, I don't know where we would be right now."

We acknowledge and applaud her efforts.

— Reporter Erin Alberty contributed to this story.


Past Utahn of the Year winners


Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes


Same-sex marriage plaintiffs


Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill


Mormons Building Bridges


Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank


Elizabeth, Lois and Mary Smart


Elizabeth Smart


Larry Miller


First responders to tragedies including the Trolley Square shooting rampage and the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster


Latino leaders Jorge Fierro, Andrew Valdez, Ruby Chacon and Alma Armendariz


Pamela Atkinson, advocate for the poor


Utahns killed in Iraq and Afghanistan


Gov. Olene Walker


LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley


Winter Games organizer Mitt Romney


Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson


The letter that sparked the Olympic bribery scandal


Mary Ann Kingston, who suffered a brutal beating after escaping plural marriage


NBA MVP Karl Malone

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune "I'm happy about the policy change," said former BYU student Madi Barney of Brigham Young University's announcement Wednesday, October 26, 2016 not to punish sexual assault victims for Honor Code violations in connection with their reports. "It was my goal all along," said Barney who launched the petition requesting Honor Code amnesty for BYU students who report sex crimes. The policy change follows the recommendations of an internal study group formed after multiple current and former students this spring said they were investigated for violations of the schoolÕs chastity requirement and other rules when they reported being sexually assaulted.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Tribune's Utahn of the Year--Madi Barney, pictured October 26, 2016, on the campus of Brigham Young University, the day the school changed its policy on sexual assault investigations. Through Barney's willingness to go public about Brigham Young UniversityÕs handling of her rape case, Barney changed the discussion of campus sexual assaults across the state. Barney launched a petition requesting Honor Code amnesty for BYU students who report sex crimes that resulted in a policy change not to punish sexual assault victims for Honor Code violations in connection with their reports.