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BYU student who reported sex assault says her Honor Code file shows school saw her as a 'suspect'

Published May 17, 2016 3:56 pm

Sex crimes • Woman says the attack by a nonstudent raised no Honor Code issues, so why was she investigated?
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A Brigham Young University student says her recently released Honor Code file shows school officials not only investigated her conduct after she reported that she had been sexually assaulted, but also monitored her criticism of BYU's response to her case.

The documents also show that the Honor Code case on Madeline MacDonald was opened on the same day she told the Provo school's sexual-violence investigators that she was groped by a man — not a BYU student — during a blind date in Orem, MacDonald said. The immediate action by Honor Code officials, she said, calls into question the school's recent claims that Honor Code investigations are separate from sex-crime investigations by the Title IX Office, which is tasked by the federal government to protect students from sex discrimination and reviews complaints of sexual violence against students.

School officials say the dates on case files likely reflect an overlap in the software used by the Honor Code and Title IX offices and does not mean an Honor Code investigation was immediately begun. BYU is considering changes to the filing system as part of its review of how it handles sexual assault cases, said BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.



MacDonald is one of several students who in recent weeks have said they were investigated for Honor Code violations as a result of reporting sexual violence — allegations that have brought nationwide attention to BYU, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Critics have alleged that victims in sex crimes are less likely to report offenders if they fear being investigated, and more than 107,000 people have signed a petition demanding amnesty from school discipline for people who report being assaulted.

BYU has released multiple statements that "a victim of sexual assault will never be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault."

MacDonald disputes that, noting that she did not violate the Honor Code in connection with her assault, and the school's investigation of her substantiated that.

The Salt Lake Tribune does not generally identify people who report sex crimes against them; MacDonald consented to be named.

Another student, who asked not to be identified, also has told The Tribune she was automatically investigated by the Honor Code Office after Title IX staff discovered she had reported a rape off campus, which resulted in criminal charges. Like MacDonald, the woman said she had broken no part of the Honor Code, yet school officials told her she would have to be investigated for potential violations. That inquiry remains open because the defendant in the rape case, also not a BYU student, will not participate.

Both women said there appeared to be no reason for their Honor Code investigations apart from the fact that they had reported sexual assaults.

MacDonald obtained records of her investigation from the Honor Code Office through a request under federal laws that regulate students' education records. When she went to the Honor Code Office this week to review the file, she said she was not allowed to make copies or take photos of the documents.

"I had to sit in a room with people watching me. ... I couldn't bring anyone with me, and they made me leave my cellphone in the other room," she said. She was allowed to take notes, she said.

The 87-page file included materials gathered during the Title IX investigation: MacDonald's statement and responses from the Utah Valley University student who she said drove her up to a mountain on Dec. 9, 2014, in Orem and started taking off her clothes and groping her while she told him to stop and tried to push him away.

MacDonald said she reported the assault on Dec. 10 to Title IX investigators at BYU on the recommendation of staff from the school's office for women's services and resources. The same date appeared on the Honor Code case file, MacDonald said.

Jenkins said that because the Title IX investigators use a filing system developed by the Honor Code Office, an Honor Code file may be opened immediately, even if the investigation does not begin until later.

"An Honor Code review — if it takes place at all — would follow the Title IX investigation," Jenkins said.

MacDonald said her biggest surprise was the level of detail in a case in which the only student involved was the alleged victim.

"Every single word I'd said to anyone in the university was cataloged," MacDonald said. "Even conversations I had with secretaries, and cracked stupid jokes — those stupid jokes were in the file."

She said she also found records of a phone call her father had placed to Title IX coordinator Sarah Westerberg, complaining that MacDonald shouldn't be investigated for wrongdoing after reporting a crime.

"My dad was very proud he made it into my file," MacDonald said.

The most startling evidence MacDonald said she found was images of text messages sent by a student government representative with whom she met.

"I was trying to get people to realize what was happening, to realize that these cases going to the Honor Code Office was a big deal," MacDonald said. "I tried to talk to members of the student government: 'Hey, you're supposed to work with these offices. ... This is happening, this is my story, this is happening to other girls, too.' "

A student representative apparently sent a text message to someone, noting that MacDonald was frustrated with how her assault report was handled, speculating that she was "very likely" to turn to the news media or local government officials, and asking how he should handle her complaints.

MacDonald said it is unclear whom the student sent the messages to, whether the Honor Code Office received them secondhand or how they pertain to the investigation into whether she was sexually assaulted.

However, she said, it is clear that the school viewed her as a suspect. "This whole time, I was being watched and documented," MacDonald said.

Jenkins said she could not discuss the Honor Code file of an individual student, but she noted that the Title IX office accepts all information received during an investigation.

"The presence of information in a file does not mean that it was significant or played any role in the outcome of the investigation," she said.

Jenkins did not discuss how Honor Code investigators may evaluate the same information. The Honor Code and sexual assault at BYU

Tell the Tribune: Have you or someone you know experienced a sexual assault at BYU?

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.

April 20 • Dozens of protesters deliver a petition to BYU's administration, calling for Honor Code amnesty for students who report sexual assault.

 

 

 

 

 

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