Dear 100 Hour Board,
We've seen a couple questions post about the BYU Honor Code/rape victim controversy, but I'm wondering what the alumni's opinions are on the issue?
Dear Title IX,
You can summarize my main position with this: Amnesty for Honor Code violations that occurred during sexual assault is essential. There are a lot of aspects of the Honor Code enforcement that need to be addressed (something that can be done without abandoning the Honor Code altogether). But the ways in which this particular policy is harmful and unhelpful are clear cut and make the status quo indefensible.
Here are some main points I've seen real people repeatedly bringing up (To be clear, I didn't invent these but took them directly from what friends, other BYU alumni for the most part, were saying on social media):
- BYU has a lot of good policies that help and protect its students. We shouldn't forget about those despite all this negative press.
- The Honor Code itself protects students from many if not most situations that would result in sexual violence.
- “Rape culture” doesn’t exist at BYU as evidenced by how serious BYU takes the above mentioned good policies and by how serious the punishment of convicted rapists is.
- If students are breaking the Honor Code when they are sexually assaulted, they should suffer the consequences of those Honor Code violations, though not, of course, be punished for the actual sexual assault.
- BYU is a good, safe place and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s as bad as is being depicted.
1. Pointing out how good BYU is, how many other good policies it has, and pointing toward a (hypothetical, unquantified) number of women who must have had GOOD experiences doesn’t change that this current policy, reserving the right to investigate and punish Honor Code infractions, is bad and discourages reporting of sexual assault. That’s a deflection – it’s saying “well it’s MOSTLY good, so why fixate on the bad?” I’m sure you're familiar with a classic MormonAd with a cockroach in an ice cream sundae (the point being a little bad content in media makes it all bad)? This is a cockroach policy. Is BYU all bad? No. But this needs to change.
2. Speaking of deflection, pointing out how the Honor Code protects women says nothing about the people who were NOT breaking the Honor Code but who were still sexually assaulted and STILL put on academic or ecclesiastic probation as they were “investigated.” These stories are also coming to light and they are numerous (here is a link to one person's experience, and in this video is another person's).
Nobody is claiming that BYU punishes people FOR being raped, though that’s a point they keep repeating. This is also a deflection. The two major problems are that 1) rape is not being reported and that’s happening at least in part because of the threat of Honor Code investigations of victims and 2) sexual assault victims are being investigated, put on academic probation, even when they did not break the Honor Code. Problem two feeds problem number one.
3. A friend, a former BYU R.A., posted a lengthy discussion about this topic on Facebook (the post and the resulting thread contained many of the bulleted points above). He rejected the idea of a "rape culture" at BYU, and supposed that for all the stories we were hearing of mistreated victims, there must be hundreds how had positive experiences (there's not really any data to support that, but whatever). But within his answer was this line: “But does this [Honor Code investigations of sexual assault victims] create a chilling effect, in which rape victims become less likely to report a crime because they fear repercussions from the university? Probably.” This is the problem. Full stop.
Being in your boyfriend/girlfriend’s bedroom or breaking curfew is not criminal activity. Even drinking (if you’re old enough) isn’t criminal activity. They do violate an agreed upon code of conduct, yes. But rape is a criminal activity. Rapists are also virtually always serial rapists. To acknowledge the “chilling effect” of reporting rape, but implying this is acceptable because infractions of the Honor Code require punishment is bad. It’s not even a “mercy is greater than justice” situation. It’s prioritizing accountability of smaller things over a much, much bigger thing: “Rape should be punished (of course! Everyone agrees on this!) but we need to punish everything punishable.” How much alcohol does someone need to drink, how much acid do they need drop, how late after curfew in the wrong part of town or the wrong person’s apartment before punishing those Honor Code violations becomes more important than finding and stopping a rapist?
Saying there’s a “rape culture” of BYU doesn’t mean everyone is cool with rapists getting away with it. But it can mean that people are okay with rape going unreported if that means guilty victims who violated their Honor Code commitment are also made accountable. It includes holding up a rape victim and listing off her transgressions and publicly trying to decide if she was truly blameless. It includes a Utah County deputy feeling obligated to submit evidence to the Honor Code because he thought the rape victim was “fooling around.” It can mean allowing Honor Code enforcement to be something that rapists can exploit for "victim grooming" - pressuring victims to break the Honor Code in smaller ways, then after assaulting them, making the victims feel they have no recourse because they will be punished for other violations rape culture is pervasive and present, even at BYU.
This “chilling effect” for rape reporting isn’t just distasteful or morally wrong. It goes against established best practices for sexual assault investigations. As mentioned, it's exploited by rapists (who can then threaten to or actually retaliate against their victims by reporting them to the Honor Code office). Southern Virginia University, a non-church school, but one founded on LDS standards with a nearly identical Honor Code but includes the kind of immunity clause for sexual assault reporting that BYU’s Honor Code needs.
An idea that keeps coming up (even here on the Board) is that someone being raped is "punishment enough" and therefore further punitive action from the Honor Code is unnecessary. That's a disturbing idea. At what point does sexual assault become "enough" of a punishment? If the threat of sexual violence was imminent, but the victim was able to fend them off or escape, should they still report the incident? Was that not punishment enough? I don't think it's a good idea to confuse amnesty, institutional support and resources (things that SHOULD exist for victims of sexual assault) with the concept of "they've suffered enough." In that arithmetic, that support and mercy should only be offered if the punishment (the rape) happened "enough" or fit our preconceived (often wrong) notions of what rape, rapists and the aftermath look like.
Another bit about punishment. To reiterate, I think that the Honor Code is good, that standards of behavior (particularly at a religious-based institution) are understandable and the real problem is figuring out how to enforce those rules. But fundamentally, I think the concept of punishment as it relates to Honor Code violations by sexual assault victims is troubling. Do you find yourself believing, however mildly or staunchly, that it is requisite that Honor Code violations be punished? There are a variety of rationales for that position, but three common ones are these: (1) It's fair after all (and after all they agreed to it by signing the Honor Code didn't they?). (2) It protects the interests and standards of the institution. And when others want to come to BYU, doesn't this show half-hearted commitment to their agreement? (3) Honor Code-related academic punishment can become part of the repentance process, helping students manage unresolved sin. If you believe that it is necessary to punish Honor Code violators, even if they are the victims of rape, it would be worth trying to figure out which of the above reasons justify that position.
I’m encouraged that BYU put out a press release saying it will carefully reevaluate these policies. We’ll see what they come up with. Because the current situation is unsupportable.
BYU is rightly proud of its image, of the statistically low numbers of sexual violence among its student body. But Utah in general, and according to police Provo specifically, has a terrible rate of reporting rape. And as more and more stories are being shared by rape survivors (a friend with connections at the Tribune said that in the month after the first story was reported, their news team kept getting more and more phone calls from survivors wanting to tell their stories), it’s clear that those numbers are, if not meaningless, then at least skewed because of a lack of reporting.
If we really care about BYU and more importantly care about the safety of its students and the victims of sexual crimes, then something needs to change. BYU is good. It needs to be better.
- Rating Pending (who thinks he covered basically everything he wanted to say. Here, by the way, is the cockroach in the ice cream MormonAd. The fact that it reads "It's great except for ..." fits this situation even better than he assumed it would.)
I'll address some myths that seem to be especially prevalent at BYU. I hope that by sharing my perspective, even strong Rule of Law types can see the damage that certain viewpoints can have on our brothers and sisters. Some of these myths relate primarily to consensual phsyical activity, some to rape. Unfortunately, I believe that the current climate makes LDS female students especially vulnerable to being targets of unwanted physical contact, sexual assault, and even violent rape.
Myth 1: The atonement has a caveat around sex. Sorry, you're out of luck.
I didn't really encounter this line of thinking until coming to BYU. And I maintain it's dangerous and wrong. One too many lessons stating point-blank that you could never recover your former self after sexual transgression poisoned the well for me, in many ways. Keep in mind that when I started at BYU, my sex drive was still bound up in Victorian notions of letter-writing and moony-eyed carriage rides under the stars. I hadn't even kissed a man. (One problem with nineteenth-century courtship narratives is that they aren't relevant to modern dating, and valorize feminine submissiveness.) Even so, I felt that there was a glaring double standard, and I still do. The following experiences help illustrate why.
Myth 2: Women have to put the brakes on; men can't control themselves.
I'd had an adequate if dry education on the topic of human reproduction, but almost nothing on navigating issues around sexuality or consent. The onslaught of hormones led me to enter a relationship with a fellow awkward freshman, whose libido was also off-the-charts and who also had zero useful dating experience.
There's a strange, recent idea that "good" Mormon women, especially, will go from having no real interest in sex to being enthusiastic participants once the marriage vows are said. If a community is committed to couples maintaining virginity, then perpetuating a myth that men will always be the aggressors and that women are obligated to shut them down (all the while deciding that it's too "awkward" to discuss what meaningful consent looks like) actually exacerbates the situation.
Long story short, by the second date, he was pushing my boundaries, and (surprise!) I didn't have the vocabulary or forcefulness to be the one to stop him. I liked him and it felt enjoyable and Mormon women are socialized to be passive. He went on a mission, and I didn't have any clearer answers as to what a healthy relationship would look like.
Myth 3: Honor Code violations are one strike and you're out
A year later, I started what would turn out to be one of my most serious relationships. We had a lot more in common than the previous young man, and he was better at verbally checking in.
Although the text of the Honor Code does not forbid making out, it does forbid being in the bedroom of a member of the opposite sex. The R.A. lived in his apartment, and part of the job description was reporting us for violating the bedroom rule. Two points of note: I don't think my then-boyfriend had to appear before the committee, which seems like a double standard since he was an equal participant. Additionally, I (truthfully) said we were just making out and was let off with a warning. Whether the lack of other violations, or a less-punitive culture, or sheer luck were at play, I don't know.
In general, I'm a fan of the benefit of the doubt. There seems to be a torches-and-pitchforks mentality that has cropped up, and I find it strange. Being kicked out of the university over that would certainly not have made us feel more warmly towards the school or the Church.
Myth 4: Non-BYU students are hedonists with no limits who won't respect your decisions
Sure, some people fit that description (at BYU, too!) and it's well-established that executive functioning doesn't fully develop til 25, so young people are biologically primed to make impulsive decisions. But I've found that, if anything, the non-LDS populace doesn't view sexuality with quite so much hysteria. There are lots of people outside the Church who decide to wait til they're in a committed relationship to have sex. (Waiting til marriage is, indeed, increasingly rare, but without sharing the same viewpoints on the afterlife, I don't find that either surprising or upsetting.)
I think that there is an idea that BYU students need the Honor Code or all hell will break loose. The problem is, I know lots of active, married-in-the-temple, rule-abiding Mormons who didn't go to BYU, so what gives? I think externalizing the notion of "honor" to a committee with no real transparency actually encourages dishonorable behavior through negative incentivization.
(Fair warning: I will now touch on my own experience as a target of this rather disturbing crime, though not in graphic detail. Sensitive readers, feel free to scroll past if desired.)
Myth 5: Rape is about purity, rape is inevitable, rape wouldn't happen if one is "following the rules"
This is, needless to say, a heavy topic for me, but I hope that it shows that sexual assault isn't a moral failing of its targets, but its perps. Though I certainly don't have all the answers, I'll illustrate how some of the schemas I'd developed at BYU made a bad experience worse.
In brief, a few years after graduating, I was raped by a stranger. And remember those ideas I had floating around? Women have to scream "no" and fight to the death even when clearly no sexual activity was expected or desired? Men are crazed sexual aggressors so you should curtail normal living? Arousal somehow confers consent in an assault situation? Well, they didn't help. I definitely was paralyzed and couldn't bring myself to speak. (The threatening choking motions around my neck sort of interfered.)
I don't have any magic policy solutions, here. Unlike some, I don't see myself as a "survivor" or even an activist. But this complete stranger did commit both a serious crime and a moral sin against me, and I think when the police say "hey guys, this is what would help stop serial rapists," we should listen. The status quo isn't working.
I haven't attached an alias, merely because I chose not to pursue charges, and don't want to muddy the legal waters. If anyone is in need of either a listening ear or recommendations for legal or psychological resources, send an email to the editors, and they'll put us in touch.
-Not a piece of chewed gum
Note: I am not anti-Honor Code (though I disagree with many of its specific tenets and enforcement practices, I acknowledge a private university's right to set behavioral standards), nor are these few sentences meant to contain all of my thoughts on the matter.
The way reports of assault are being handled is unacceptable, and (thankfully) it seems like a lot of people recognize that. Punishing people when they report an assault (yes, even if they're not being punished FOR the incident itself) is very clearly going to have a chilling effect on reporting. That's bad.
On the other hand, there's no end to the pearl clutching over the consequences of amnesty for people who report assault. From what I understand, false reporting is a valid concern, but it's far less prevalent than actual incidents of sexual assault.
So neither direction is perfect. But to me, weighing these two sides becomes pretty simple: if both approaches are imperfect, let's pick the one that most helps rape victims.
That BYU would continue to fail to protect its students as vehemently as possible is incredibly disturbing to me. Since this is addressed to us as alumni—both of the Board and of the University— I'll add that this is one of multiple reasons that I'm becoming concerned about its presence on my resume. That's a horrible thing to have to say about one's school, but I wouldn't have to say it if they didn't keep doing dumb things.
Jesus forgives, but the Honor Code Office (which seems content to invoke his name) can't find a way to avoid punishing victims? It's a minefield and a barbed wire fence around the Pharisaical hedge that we've already put around the law.
Honestly, sometimes people outside of BYU jump to conclusions and give a harder time to BYU than the organization deserves.
This is not one of those times.
You don't punch down. You don't punish victims. You don't punish victims.
The Honor Code Office should be ashamed of itself.
I've been heavily trained on Title IX and sexual assault response at another university over the last few years. I've worked with a few students who have unfortunately had reason to be working with the Title IX office.
And what's happening at BYU makes me so angry that I can't civilly talk about it. I am absolutely furious. The disparities that I see between what I've witnessed firsthand in similar scenarios at this university and what happens at BYU is truly horrifying. They have to fix it.
I think that, for the most part, people who are concerned with this situation don't disagree with the basic concept of the Honor Code. Anyone who tries to argue that this is just a bunch of people who don't like the Honor Code is making a straw man argument and shouldn't be taken too seriously.
Before I talk about the Honor Code, though, I want to share a personal story.
About six years ago, when I was a missionary, I spent several months in an emotionally and sometimes physically abusive companionship. (There was no sexual element to the abuse or the relationship, so I can't claim to have even the slightest understanding of that sort of abuse. But a companionship is a relationship which in many ways parallels a romantic relationship, so I believe I can say that I know what it feels like to be in an abusive relationship.) I had always been told that if I faced challenges in my companionship, I should look at myself first. After all, I can change me but I can't change other people. There's some truth to that, but in such an extreme case I took everything that was going wrong and internalized it. Companion won't get up in the morning? It must be my fault for not helping him. Companion insults and degrades me? It's my fault for taking it personally. Companion physically damages my property? I shouldn't have reacted to him and made the situation escalate. Companion makes me spend my personal money on him because he already spent all of our allowance? It's cash atonement for all of the trouble I've caused him, so I need to just accept it. Companion physically injures me? I could have been passive rather than assertive and nothing would have happened.
I've suppressed most memories of that period in my life, but suffice it to say that I blamed myself for everything that was wrong and was convinced that I was going to hell. I had been depressed before this point, although I refused to admit it to anyone else or to myself, and this situation took that feeling to an extreme. I have reason to believe that my companion knew most or all of this on some level and actively encouraged it, because my complete self-blame and self-hatred gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted and take whatever he wanted from me.
Looking back today, when I am confident and mentally healthy, I can name dozens of things I would have done differently. At the top of that list is that I would have dragged my companion kicking and screaming to see the mission president. Or, at the very least, when he mutilated my clothing, I would have worn that clothing in its damaged state to the next zone meeting and directed all questions about it to him. One way or another, I would have made the situation get noticed.
At least, that's what I say now. That's easy to say now. I'm healthy, I'm confident, and I'm years removed from the situation. But then and there? I thought I was going to hell, and I thought that if the mission president ever found out about what was going on, I would get sent home, which was even worse. So I kept my mouth shut.
My next companion was not abusive, but he was extremely difficult and made my life miserable. Again, I kept my mouth shut, because I knew that I was a failure and didn't want anyone else to know.
My abusive companion continued to exhibit the same behavior, although never as extreme, until another missionary did what I did not and told the mission president that the numbers were lies, the reports were lies, and this man was not to be trusted with anything. (That other missionary and I were later companions, and it was only when he told me how badly he'd been treated that I finally got it through my head that I was not a uniquely horrible person and was not personally responsible for all of the horrible things that had happened in my previous companionships.) He was made junior companion and given strong-willed senior companions for the rest of his mission. Had I said or done something, I could have made that happen much sooner.
I kept myself in an abusive situation because I believed that I was personally responsible for the things that had happened, and because being publicly punished was an even worse prospect to me than eternal damnation. My abuser knew this, and used that knowledge to keep the abusive situation going.
This is one of the most basic and common tactics of sexual abusers.
As things stand right now, a BYU student victim of sexual abuse would have many of the same fears that I had. She (or he) would likely be convinced she was going to hell, she would likely be convinced of her complete guilt in the situation, and she would fully expect to lose her home, her job, and her education if anyone ever found out what was happening.
And with good reason. By the letter of the law, at least by my understanding and by the understanding of most students, she would be completely right on that last point.
Her abuser would doubtlessly know this too. His position would be doubly powerful if he was not a BYU student and she was. He could threaten to tell the Honor Code office about their sexual relationship if she broke up with him or refused sex. He could tell her that it wasn't rape because she never actually said the word "no" even though she also never gave her consent. He could tell her that he was an honor student and Elder's Quorum president and she was just some used gum nobody and so nobody would believe her.
He might not even have to be dating her at first to make this happen. If he knows of any violation of the Honor Code that she has committed, he can use that to blackmail her into sex - either she has sex with him, or he tells the university and gets her kicked out. (This should be really obvious, but just in case it isn't - that is a clear-cut case of rape.) He might even be able to create that Honor Code violation in the first place, by convincing her to harmlessly bend the rules and then assault her while she's in violation of something.
These are not hypothetical situations. If those who have come forward are to be trusted, each of these things and more has actually happened.
It's easy for us, from the safety of our own situations, to say that of course we would put our safety before our education, that of course we would trust the Honor Code Office to get things right, that of course the authorities would believe us if we accused someone of rape, that of course we'd know that nobody gets kicked out of the university for a minor infraction.
Any survivor of abuse can tell you that all of those rational and confident thoughts, if they were ever there in the first place, go out the window when you are being abused. Victims of abuse are often at a vulnerable emotional or psychological state before the abuse begins, and abuse only makes it worse. Today, I know for a fact that I would not have been sent home from my mission for the things that happened while I was with my abusive companion, and that I may not have even been blamed or chastised for any of them, but at the time the only things I was confident of were that I was going to get sent home if word got out and that I was going to hell regardless, so I might as well cut my losses and at least not get sent home in humiliation. I WAS WRONG, BUT AS LONG AS I WAS IN THAT ABUSIVE AND MENTALLY UNHEALTHY SITUATION, NOTHING AND NOBODY COULD HAVE CONVINCED ME I WAS NOT RIGHT, AND NOTHING AND NOBODY EVEN TRIED BECAUSE ONLY MY ABUSER AND I KNEW WHAT WAS GOING ON.
I don't know the right way to handle cases of abuse. I don't even know if there is a right way. In a situation that is that fundamentally wrong, every possible resolution is just different levels of reduced wrongness. I am absolutely convinced, though, that the way BYU handles rape cases is more wrong than it has to be and more wrong than it should be.
Other writers in their answers here (and Zed, in conversation with me the other day) have expressed that universities should not have jurisdiction over rape cases. Given the immense potential for conflicts of interest, I completely agree. These are criminal matters that should be handled by a justice system as independent of vested interests as possible. The police and the courts have the resources necessary to gather the facts, ensure due process for the accuser and the accused, and mete out appropriate justice. I frankly don't understand why universities ever had any jurisdiction here, and do not believe that they should. If, say, one employee of Microsoft were raped by another, would that be treated by Microsoft's own justice system? The thought is absurd. I don't see how it is any less absurd where universities are concerned.
This alone is not enough, though. As long as students expect to be kicked out of the school (and likely lose their jobs and their homes) when they come forward about their abuse, there will be a perverse incentive in place that encourages abuse to occur.
I have never personally dealt with the Honor Code Office, so I hesitate to make any statements about anything that happens there. I want to believe that the university and all of its appendages have the best interest of the students in mind, even if their definition and my definition of "best interest" may not always coincide.
However, the system as it stands creates undeniable perverse incentives that create new and unnecessary opportunities for abuse, that impose conditions that perpetuate abusive situations, and that punish victims of abuse when they come forward or imply that punishment is deserved. This is dangerous. Full stop. I hope that the university's current efforts to fix what is now broken are successful, but until then, the unintentional but very real incentives created by the system cause an immoral and unjust outcome that absolutely must be corrected.
I hold a number of unpopular opinions, and this is certain to be one of them. I think any mention of a "chilling" effect that the honor code has on sexual assault reporting reflects badly on the character of those who have been assaulted. It strips them of their integrity, and is a much bigger problem than sexual assault. Yes, I believe that there are worse things than being sexually assaulted, get your pitchforks ready.
Maybe I should have led with "Rape and sexual assault is abhorrent. There is no excuse for it, and I am in favor of nailing perpetrators to the wall if their guilt can be found in a court of law. Nobody should ever not be prosecuted for sexual assault, just because their victim violated the honor code." I am not defending sexual predators. Nobody is defending sexual predators. Nobody is defending sexual predators. Nobody is defending sexual predators.
However, saying that someone who broke the honor code is not going to report that they have been assaulted is essentially saying that people are willing to let rapists go free just for a tuition discount. That is harsh. I live in a world where honor and integrity are valued above all else. Were I to break that, it would have consequences not only for me, but for people who I may one day lead into harm's way. I can not afford to tell a little lie to preserve my social or academic standing.
People have pointed out to me that I am often hard to understand, so I will ask this as simply and compassionately as I am capable of. To you who have been sexually assaulted and are afraid to come forward; If you have done a wrong, but had a greater wrong done to you, why are you afraid of unmasking the greater wrong if it means unmasking your lesser wrong? That is irrational and reflects poorly on you. I am not blaming the victim, I am not saying that what you were wearing or drinking or snorting or where you were caused you to get assaulted. I am asking what is keeping you from ensuring justice is done? Cheap tuition and social standing? Really? REALLY?
Why allow yourself to be blackmailed? If you are leaving the church, and you get raped and blackmailed (as in the Tribune article), why are you allowing the blackmail to happen? Why not be honest and accept the consequences to ensure that justice is done? If it means being honest with your loss of faith and going to UVU or the U, what is so wrong with that if it ensures justice is done? Calling things "perverse incentives" is a fancy, academic way of saying "people don't want to be honest."
Why have we created such a culture of victimhood that robs us of our integrity?
When we say:
"Everybody is less safe," Taylor said. "What's the greater good? Protecting the moral integrity of the institution by punishing every identifiable act of consensual sex? Or are we going to deal with predators? It seems this question needs to be asked and answered."
we erase any nuance possible. I am appalled at how black and white people, especially on this Board, are making this. I am appalled at how emotional people are being about this, so emotional that they can not see reason and deal with it rationally. It's not a question of punishing "every identifiable act of consensual sex [OR] deal[ing] with predators." We are pushing our own personal responsibility aside by equating a sense of responsibility with merely "protecting the moral integrity of the institution." It's not the institution, BYU is not hiding anything. We ought to deal with predators first, absolutely. A person's transgressions should certainly not even come into play in the prosecution of an alleged sexual predator, outside their relevance in the court case. I am in favor of temporary amnesty until the resolution of a trial and the legally ascertained guilt or innocence of the perpetrator. However, if you have made an agreement to uphold a certain set of standards, you should uphold those standards. I am unfamiliar with the dismissal and reenrollment procedure, but surely the inconvenience of doing so is worth putting a predator behind bars?
In cases like the watershed one of late, where the police got inappropriately involved with the HCO, everyone in that situation should be punished to the full extent of the law. It is inappropriate for an officer of the law to have anything to do with the workings of the HCO. I grant that may have a chilling effect, because it gives the appearance of legal repercussions for honor code violation rather than mere intra-university consequences, but blackmail is already illegal! How can we make it more illegal? If you stand up to a blackmailer, they get more punishment, not less! That said, BYU police are on your side. I witnessed many times, honest BYU police wave off people reporting honor code issues to them, saying they were not police issues. I respected that stance immensely. When I worked for BYU police, I made it a point to deflect tattling; when people snitched on their friends or roommates for breaking the honor code I would tell them it was none of our business, and really none of their business. The honor code should be of no concern to the police, only infractions of the law. Having impartial police who enforce the law instead of the honor code reflects well on them.
I do not see this as a black mark on BYU. I view it as a black mark on the integrity of those who go to BYU. Do what is right, let the consequence follow. The less we look at the Honor Code as "The Honor Code" and the more we look at it as a code of honor, the better off we are. Chalk circles and whatnot.
As I was discussing this with Zedability, our tweenage reading of Jack Weyland came up. For those who aren't familiar, Weyland wrote a series of Very Important Mormon Issue novels starting in the '80s, the plots of which are inevitably a troubled but gorgeous girl realizing she wants to be with the dweeby, unmemorable dude who studies Computer Science/Physics after a Bad Thing Happens. (Not that this is not unique to Weyland: that could describe John Green novels, with better prose and more swearing.) I knew there was one on date rape, so I thought I'd skim through it. It's called Brittany, and it was published in 1997.
While Zed was occupying herself with frustrating Goodreads reviews, I realized something, and it changed me.
Jack Weyland, who has written some of the most awkward love scenes ever to hit the mass market, and whose female protagonists always need a dork to save them ...
... his views on date rape in the LDS context are considerably more compassionate than what we've heard from BYU spokespeople twenty years later. The "message" wasn't completely terrible. Parts of it were ... kind of good?!
Take the following passage, spoken by the therapist to Brittany after her assault:
It doesn't need to be a dark secret. It would be better if you were able to think of it in the same way you would if you had come down with pneumonia. That's bad too, but it happens sometimes. We don't think poorly about people who get sick, do we? We don't say it was their fault. We don't say they were secretly wanting to get pneumonia. We just say they got it. Maybe you need to think of what happened to you in the same way. Silence protects the perpetrator more than it does the victim.
Silence protects the perpetrator more than it does the victim.
Silence protects the perpetrator more than it does the victim.
Silence protects the perpetrator more than it does the victim, BYU!
As someone who has been a consistent defender of both the Church and BYU as organizations on the Board, I would like to second what Cognoscente said. It is far too common for people to assume the worst and beat down on BYU, without sufficient justification.
But this is not one of those times.
I recognize we (as students/the public) do not have all the facts of the cases that have been the subject of such public scrutiny, but I cannot imagine what context could exist that would justify the University's actions.
While I still respect BYU, and still love being here, this incident will likely change the way I look at the school going forward.
I have some thoughts.
1. I have to confess something less than perfect patience with how questions like these unfold. You've asked a question about a very complicated situation, and we've given you mostly outrage. Granted, Rating Pending gives us the most substantive answer, addressing amnesty, chilling effects, and theories of punishment in ways that I think are helpful. But he also sets up a number of straw men (see his bulleted list), only to quickly set them alight. It's not obvious to me how that's productive. From there it quickly descends into an anger-fest. Cognoscente thinks the HCO should be "ashamed of itself." habiba is "absolutely furious"; yayfulness believes the system is "dangerous." Haleakala will never look at BYU the same; Foreman isn't even sure how to feel about BYU being on his resume. Everyone is angry.
Do you see the problem here? To be clear, I don't doubt that all of the above writers are genuinely angry. Nor do I think there's not anything worth getting genuinely angry about. There is. But the word "amnesty" has appeared once since the first half of the third answer, and I count five answers with virtually no substance at all. Dr. Smeed excepted, we're just sitting in a circle nodding at each other and declaring this to be Very, Very Bad. What, exactly, is bad? The lack of an amnesty policy? (That seems bad to me.) Rating Pending refers to "these policies." Foreman references "the way reports of assault are being handled." habiba talks about "what's happening at BYU." Haleakala darkly nods at "this incident." Nobody, in any answer, actually says what's going on, or what specifically is wrong with BYU's policies, although everyone is certain that whatever it is makes them very, very angry.1
2. So. Substance. I agree with Rating Pending that BYU should have an amnesty policy for individuals who report sexual assault under Title IX. I think that BYU should especially have an amnesty policy for individuals who make reports to Provo PD. Additionally, Provo PD should not pass those reports on to BYU—(a bit of outrage from me: I find it deeply troubling that a police officer would pass along a police file to BYU, and BYU absolutely should not have run with it in the Barney case)—and the HCO obviously should not go scouring police reports for opportunities to discipline students. I also think that BYU should delay Honor Code investigations, if they are to proceed at all, until prosecutors in a criminal case say that it's appropriate for a victim to meet with BYU, and that the victim's academic standing should not change in the interim. (Troublingly, Title IX calls for universities to investigate these things swiftly, and the notion of criminal and school actions proceeding in parallel makes me squirm.) I am frankly unsure about what the appropriate scope of an amnesty provision should be; SVU's seems like a good start, but it also seems like it's not going to catch all that many situations. SVU's amnesty policy only protects complainants or witnesses from "disciplinary action by the university for their own personal use of alcohol or drugs at or near the time of the incident, so long as those actions did not, or do not place anyone else at risk regarding their health and safety." There is no protection, apparently, from discipline for substance use on different occasions from the incident, or for prior consensual sexual conduct. Lots of Title IX investigations are going to comb through prior consensual sexual conduct between the accuser and the accused if the accused's defense is consent. I imagine that most of the above writers think that that stuff should be off-limits to HCO discipline, but nobody bothers to say so. I confess to being not totally sure, and I would be open to persuasion by others. You can read some discussion of amnesty policies here and here.
3. I am apparently more bothered than other writers about the incidence of false reports. Even if those reports are exceptionally rare, they ought to be *extremely* concerning. (Think about all the HCO witch hunts we've all heard of based on false reports.) Title IX investigations at colleges and universities have famously bad process: accused individuals frequently are not permitted legal representation, are sometimes not allowed to view evidence against them, and are not allowed to cross-examine witnesses against them for fear that cross-examination of an accuser would deter reporting. (It obviously would, but at some point deterrence of reporting has to yield to other concerns; we don't change due process rules in the criminal law because of chilling effect concerns when it comes to rape.) There are increasingly abundant reports of innocent individuals being kicked out of school by administrative panels that amount to mostly a joke. You can read some relevant coverage here; an account of one particularly disturbing incident is here. I am less bothered by the prospect of false police reports because of the procedural protections criminal defendants are afforded.
On that note, sexual assault is a crime. Why have we decided that bunch of campus bureaucrats should adjudicate these things in kangaroo courts, where students sometimes sit on decision-making panels? That is nuts. I have no sympathy for people who sexually assault others and then deservedly get kicked out of school. But I have deep concerns about universities' abilities to get these things right on a regular basis, and despite process that generally favors accusers, I have no idea whether the average outcome is biased in favor of accusers or accuseds, at BYU or elsewhere. I hope that as BYU revisits its sexual assault policies, it gives appropriate attention to balancing process for accused students, chilling effects, and deference to legal proceedings.2
4. "You're being too harsh, No Dice," you all object. "The questioner asked for general opinions, not detailed policy suggestions. Stop being a turd and looking down your nose at justifiably angry people." Fine. Fair. But look, folks. A religious university's desire to enforce a sexual code of conduct while deterring and addressing sexual assault is a Very Hard Problem. I pity the people at BYU who are tasked with figuring this stuff out, even if I think they've mucked it up in some ways. But rather than just being furious about everything, all the time, maybe—just maybe?—we could identify a problem, acknowledge the difficulty of the problem, nail down what exactly makes the problem hard, and think through a handful of proposals that we think would be better than the status quo. I know we're not experts. But we seem to have confidently identified something as Very Bad; why can't we identify something else as Somewhat Better? And why can't we do so while acknowledging that no university has gotten this right yet, a bunch are getting sued over it, and sexual assault is a serious, underreported problem that isn't going away no matter what policies BYU adopts? It's easy to be a critic. It's even easier to be outraged—then you don't even have to criticize anything in particular. I happen to think that this problem deserves thoughtful, nuanced discussions that go beyond group virtue-signaling like the above. And I encourage you, Dear Questioner, to have some of those nuanced, substantive discussions with others.
1 I note, happily, that Zedability gave a very substantive answer to a similar question in Board Question #86228, much of which I agree with, some of which I do not, and all of which I recommend. Although I wrote this answer before reading Zed's, a number of my specific policy thoughts are exactly what she recommended a week ago.
2 Here, let's try something. Think back to the last three college administrators or staff you've had to interact with for one reason or another. Now imagine you've been accused of sexual assault. Your degree and pending job offer depend on the resolution of your case. Now imagine that those three administrators—and only they—are in charge of determining whether you are guilty or innocent. Good! Now try to sleep tonight.
"But sometimes, people lie about being raped to get out of the Honor Code violation process."
If this is the response, the problem is with the policy, not people. You don't keep a policy like that at the expense of true victims who are already unlikely to report being raped.
Too many times there is a conflict of interest or lose/lose situations like this. I wouldn't be surprised if, down the line, the church decides that it's not worth the risk the way they did with the hospital business, and bail out. If so, I don't think it would happen soon though.