Will the Fear of Retribution Decrease Campus Rape Reporting at BYU?

In a recent article, USA Today reports on the case of Madeline MacDonald, who said that as an 18 year-old freshman at Brigham Young University, she was sexually assaulted by a man that she met online.  After properly reporting the case to university officials, she was then investigated by the school regarding whether she may have broken the school’s honor code by drinking and engaging in premarital sex.

In the two years that have followed, the perpetrator has not been caught.  In addition to sustaining the assault, the victim stated that she was made to feel guilty by BYU.  It was not until two weeks after that assault that university officials called her to tell her that they determined that she had not violated the school’s code of conduct.

Title IX Reporting

Title IX is a federal law that requires, among other things, that universities take steps to ensure the safety of its students, and to support victims of sexual violence.  Under the federal Jeanne Clery Act, colleges and universities that receive federal funding must publicly share information about campus crime.  Together, these laws provide protections for those who are victims of campus crime, including rights for equitable processes related to crimes and protection against future crime.  Universities and colleges must also submit an annual security report every year.

How Safe is a University?

The annual security report required should in theory provide some indication as to the safety of a college or university.  Clearly, when crimes are not reported, the information contained in such reports is flawed.  And, when universities take action – such as to threaten investigation into the behavior of a victim which might lead to expulsion – rape and sexual assault crimes are much less likely to be reported.  This is especially the case in a college environment, where thousands of students live, go to school, and interact within small geographic confines.

Schools Must Not Act Against the Interests of Crime Victims

Some crimes – especially rape and sexual assault – have long carried an undeserved stigma.  Women who have been victimized by these crimes are often reluctant to report the crime out of fear that prosecutors may victimize them again by insinuating that they were “asking for it” by what they may have worn or the fact that they may have had a drink at a party.

This fear is precisely what sexual predators want.  It’s how they get away with crimes and continue to prey upon new victims.

At our firm, we seek to hold colleges and universities responsible when they fail to protect our sons and daughters who are their students.  We demand that campuses be safe, and that sexual predators be removed.  If you or a loved one has been the victim of a sexual assault on campus, please call our firm to learn how we can help.

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