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BYU: School looking at 'changes' after Honor Code criticized for investigating sexual assaults

Published April 19, 2016 9:17 pm

Sexual assault • School acknowledges some victims are referred for evaluation of what it considers misconduct, says it will be "looking at changes."
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After emphasizing for days that it does not investigate students solely for reporting a sexual assault, Brigham Young University on Monday said it does sometimes refer victims to its Honor Code Office for review — a policy it is now re-evaluating.

Student Madi Barney and others have demanded that BYU change its approach, which they say revictimizes those who come forward to report that they've been sexually assaulted.  

In response to that criticism, which drew national attention, BYU said Monday that it will study "potential structural changes" in how it handles allegations of sexual violence.

The school had maintained that investigations by its Title IX office — charged by the federal government with protecting students from sex discrimination — are separate from Honor Code probes. But multiple women have described facing discipline under the private school's Honor Code following sexual attacks.

Spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said Monday that the Title IX department, after completing its own reviews, forwards sexual-assault cases to the Honor Code Office on a "case by case" basis.

"Sometimes in the course of an investigation, facts come to light that a victim has engaged in prior Honor Code violations," the school's statement read.

BYU said it will now review "the process for determining whether and how information is used, and the relationship between the Title IX Office and the Honor Code Office."

The Honor Code Office enforces BYU's mandatory standards, which include a dress code and bans on sex before marriage and alcohol use. The school of about 30,000 students is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Barney last week started a petition last week demanding the school grant immunity from Honor Code discipline to students who are victims of sexual violence. It has nearly 60,000 signatures.

She's said she hopes BYU will commit to policy changes and "hold themselves accountable" for punishing students who've come forward.

After Barney reported her assault to Provo police last year, BYU obtained the police records and launched an Honor Code investigation, according to court records, though the alleged attacker was not a student.

"We have received information that you have been a victim of behavior that is addressed in the university Sexual Misconduct Policy. We have also received information that you have engaged in behavior that violates the BYU Honor Code," a BYU Title IX coordinator wrote to Barney in December. "I would like to meet with you and provide you with the information that we have received and give you an opportunity to respond."

The coordinator told Barney that she could request that they stop looking into the sexual misconduct, at which point the Title IX Office would turn over the "remaining information" to the Honor Code Office.

Jenkins notes that not every student conduct review leads to a sanction. Most students found to have broken the contract, she said, stay enrolled.

The school said it has "zero tolerance for students who commit sexual violence." But some may be allowed to return to school. The university suspends, but does not necessarily expel, every student found to have sexually assaulted a classmate, Jenkins said.

University President Kevin Worthen will scrutinize the Title IX issues, the statement said, using inside and outside resources to evaluate its process.

"We're going to be studying it," Jenkins said. "Because at this point we're going to be looking at changes."

The institution has not announced a deadline for its review, which will consider the relationship of Title IX and enforcement of conduct codes at other universities across the country, Jenkins said.

​aknox@sltrib.com, rpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @anniebknox, @racheltachel The Honor Code and sexual assault at BYU

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April 12 • BYU students who are victims of sex crimes say they are investigated by the school and sometimes disciplined after reporting their abuse, and that in such cases the school's Title IX office reflexively alerts the Honor Code Office.

April 14 • A BYU student whose sexual-assault report led to an Honor Code Office review garners tens of thousands of signatures supporting her demand that BYU change its practices.

April 15 • Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson says BYU jeopardizes a pending rape prosecution because the Honor Code Office — after obtaining the police file from a Utah County sheriff's deputy who knew the suspect — refuses to delay its own case against the alleged victim.

April 15 • Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman counters his prosecutor's opinion that BYU's Honor Code Office was threatening a pending rape prosecution with its probe into the victim's actions. Buhman said he dropped a witness retaliation charge against a Utah County sheriff's deputy because of information he learned from an inadmissible internal affairs investigation.

April 16 • The Tribune's editorial board calls on BYU to maintain its standards without revictimizing students who have been sexually abused.

April 18 • BYU said its Title IX investigators, charged with protecting students from sex discrimination, sometimes refer sexual assault victims to the Honor Code Office for investigation of their conduct, and announces that it will review "potential structural changes" in light of public concern.






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