Brigham Young University changes policy for handling sex assaults

Posted at 12:11 PM, Jun 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-25 12:11:34-04

Brigham Young University is changing school policy so that students who report being victims or witnesses to sexual assault will not be punished for related honor code violations, such as drinking or using drugs.

The school announced the policy Friday, saying it wanted to encourage students to report sexual assaults.

The policy gives “amnesty” from its honor code and “leniency” to victims or witnesses who report sexual assault.

BYU, which is owned and managed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has come under fire for punishing students who are sexual assault victims because investigations determined they violated the honor code.

The students said they felt repercussions for extenuating factors surrounding the assault, not for the assault itself.

The honor code prohibits students from using drugs and alcohol use and engaging in premarital sex on or off campus. Students are required to sign the code.

“Being a victim of sexual misconduct is never a violation of the (Church Educational System) honor code,” the new amnesty policy says. “BYU strongly encourages the reporting of all incidents of sexual misconduct so that support services can be offered to victims and sexual misconduct can be prevented and stopped.”

Confidentiality guarantees

The policy aims to “encourage the reporting of sexual misconduct” by giving victims or witnesses of sexual assault guarantees of confidentiality, amnesty and leniency.

Under the confidentiality clause, the Title IX office — responsible for leading sexual harassment and sexual violence investigations — will not share with the honor code office the identities of victims unless their health is at risk or they request such action.

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of sex. The law’s reach has come into question after the Department of Justice rolled back transgender students’ rights in schools in February.

The amnesty clause says that victims “will not be disciplined by the university for any related honor code violation occurring at or near the time of the reported sexual misconduct unless a person’s health or safety is at risk.”

Leniency will be extended if an investigation discovers other honor code violations not related to a sexual assault.

The policy is the result of recommendations made in October by BYU’s Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault, according to a Friday press release. The university has been handling all cases pursuant to the recommendations while it reviewed formalizing the policy, the release said.

BYU also conducted a campus-wide “climate survey” for students to give feedback regarding sexual assault on campus and their attitudes towards it.

Punishment, not support

Last year, several BYU students told CNN about facing backlash from the school’s Title IX office after they reported being sexually assaulted and raped.

In each instance, the students saw repercussions for extenuating factors surrounding their assault, not for the assault themselves, such as being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

One woman said she willingly took hallucinogenic drugs — a violation of BYU’s honor code — with a group of men at an off-campus apartment when she was raped. She brought the assault to the attention of the Title IX office, to be sure her rapist wouldn’t target other students.

“I thought there would be some mercy, you know,” she told CNN last April. “I told them everything, and because of the fact that I was on drugs, they used that reason to kick me out of school after reporting it.”