BYU Creates Amnesty Policy for Sexual Assault Victims

In this article – “Will the Fear of Retribution Decrease Campus Rape Reporting at BYU?” – I wrote about the case of an 18 year-old BYU freshman who, after reporting she was sexually assaulted to school officials, was promptly investigated by university administrators to determine whether she had violated BYU’s honor code by drinking or engaging in premarital sex.  It wasn’t until 2 weeks after reporting the incident that BYU informed her that they determined that she had not violated the honor code.

But what if she was drinking or had previously engaged in premarital sex?  Does that mean that she deserved to be raped?  In an effort to “do the right thing” and report a dangerous criminal who might rape others, would she have deserved to be expelled from the university for having the courage to come forward?

Clearly, BYU’s actions and the fear of an investigation have been strong deterrents in reporting rape and sexual assault.  In fact, through social media, other students acknowledged that they did not report being sexually assaulted precisely for fear of being investigated for honor code violations.

More importantly, the threat of BYU’s honor code violations may have inadvertently led to victimization.  For example, if a sexual predator knew that a woman was drinking (and if they also knew that she had consensual pre-marital sex with a boyfriend), she might be the subject of a sexual attack on the basis that the predator would suspect that she would be unlikely to report the attack for fear of being expelled for her own honor code violations.

The atmosphere created by BYU was thus one that strongly disfavored the reporting of sexual assaults, which may have led to the campus as being seen as safer than it actually was.

BYU’s New Amnesty Policy

BYU student Madi Barney wrote in a petition that after being raped she also was investigated for alleged honor code violations.  Her petition demanding changes at BYU was signed by more than 117,000 people.  This petition and concerns about how other sexual assault victims were treated likely played a large role in BYU considering how it should treat sexual assault victims in the new future.

Apparently as the result of mounting pressure, as announced by BYU on October 26, 2016, and reported here, students who report being sexually assaulted at BYU no longer need to worry about the possibility of punishment for honor code violations, including drinking or premarital sex, in connection the university’s investigation of their sexual assault.  The new policy will similarly protect witnesses who report an assault.

BYU has also recognized the need for further separation of their Title IX Compliance Office (which is responsible for reporting sexual assault and other crimes under federal law) and the office that handles Honor Code investigations.  These two offices have been located in the same building; going forward, they will be in separate buildings.

We hope that these new changes will make BYU a safer campus.  A university should never place an emphasis on drinking or premarital sex over protecting students from rape and sexual assault.

How We Help

Despite the Title IX Requirements aimed at making colleges and universities safer and requiring thorough investigations into complaints of rape and sexual assault, there are still colleges and universities that seem to not have gotten the message that these are serious issues, and they cannot look the other way.  Colleges and universities must comply with the federal law in assault investigations, and they should be using more efforts to prevent sexual assault from occurring.

When colleges and universities fail to take the reasonable actions necessary to keep campuses safe, and when they fail to adequately investigate sexual assault, we, on behalf of our clients, seek to hold them fully accountable.

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