Brigham Young University, a Mormon college in Provo, Utah, has been in the news recently because of its dreadful reactions to allegations of rape on campus. In a recent article from the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah County prosecutor Craig Johnson slammed the university for antagonizing a victim by refusing to delay its Honor Code investigation.
The Honor Code is the moral rules of conduct that students are required to follow to remain at the school. The code is based on Mormon principles and forbids activities such as drinking alcohol and premarital sex. The prosecutor requested that the university postpone any investigation of a young victim of sexual assault during the case. The school has refused, and has barred the victim from attending classes during the Honor Code investigation. Johnson had some harsh words on this:
“When we have a victim that is going to be revictimized any time she talks about the rape — it’s unfortunate that BYU is holding her schooling hostage until she comes to meet with them, And we, as prosecutors, prefer she doesn’t meet with them.”
Johnson is one of many to accuse BYU of creating a climate where victims feel punished for telling the truth about their experiences with sexual assault, especially given that these crimes are so frequently unreported. In particular, many are outraged about how the university is abusing Title IX laws intended to protect women and turning them on victims.
A Single Issue or Deep Institutional Problems?
The problem at BYU goes beyond mishandling a single case. BYU frequently boasts how its Honor Code prevents most crime on campus, including sexual assault. Many activists have cautioned that a lack of reported assaults more often is a sign of a culture that shames victims rather than a sign of a genuinely safe campus for students. BYU’s claims about the lack of sexual assaults are even more dubious given that Utah has higher rape rates than average. These worrisome red flags are substantiated by a growing group of rape victims who claim the use of the Honor Code prevents them from stepping forward.
BYU a Piece of a Larger Problem
In a recent appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, civil rights activists and documentarians of The Hunting Ground, Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, explained the relationship between low reported numbers and an institutional problem. The film explores the massive problem of sexual assault on college campuses. In the interview, the activists warn students and parents about schools that claim not to have a problem.
BYU is exactly the type of university that they are talking about. It appears that rather than having a low number of sexual assaults, BYU students instead have a low level of comfort in reporting this crime. One only hopes that the Honor Code investigations are a horrible blunder from the university, rather than an intentional move to protect the school’s reputation. The victim described has created a petition to try to give sexual assault victims immunity to Honor Code investigations relating to the circumstance of their assault. At the time of writing it has roughly 41,292 signatures.
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