This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
More than three months ago, President Kevin Worthen of Brigham Young University announced that the university launched a study of its Title IX and Honor Code practices that, he made clear, would be made public and would lead to policy and practical changes.
This was a laudable step, and there are many reasons to have faith in the Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault. Worthen reiterated that the school has a "zero tolerance" policy with respect to sexual violence.
But since then, there has been no news of this study or of any policy or structural changes at BYU. Rather, BYU's problems have gotten worse, as the university is now being investigated by the federal government for its handling of sexual reports.
As a BYU alum, I care deeply about the university and its ability to fulfill its mission. It is a pity that the BYU study has been sparked by scandal, secrecy and most of all by the suffering of unknown numbers of victims. Worse yet, we are still waiting. The parade of negative news coverage will continue while we await the study results and later await the implementation of its recommendations and, still later, the impact of any changes.
Meanwhile, sexual-assault victims at BYU are no better off than before this all started, before the university's Title IX office announced that it doesn't apologize for referring assault victims to the Honor Code Office, before Madi Barney came forward with her story, before the lawsuits and federal and state investigations.
It need not have taken so long. BYU already could have offered amnesty under the Honor Code to victims of sexual assault, as has been done at LDS-influenced Southern Virginia University. The tattling lines between the Title IX Office and the Honor Code Office must be permanently severed.
These ideas are low-hanging fruit that, though not solutions to the greater issue of rape culture at the school, would at least limit some of the harm caused to rape victims under the current system. Doing so before the study is complete need not be seen as an admission of culpability by the school, nor is it an abdication of the Honor Code or the principles of BYU. It is simply the right thing to do.
Why do we have problems of campus rape in Utah? Attitudes are partly to blame. Proper sex education is an issue in our Utah culture. A cultural obsession with the "virtue" of women leaves the impression they are worth less if virginity is taken from them, even by force. These attitudes are changing, but much more is needed.
In our ongoing public conversations about sexual violence, our focus should be not on the victims' shame but on attackers: Why do some believe it is acceptable to harass, to grope, to rape? Culturally, nothing would help us move away from this attitude and improve the treatment of rape victims more than giving the victims more clout and respect. Police should hire more women. More rape kits should be tested.
At the end of June, The Tribune hosted a town hall meeting about campus rape, one that was declared to be the first of hopefully an ongoing series of conversations. There have been no updates on that front, either. Perhaps Utah is simply tired of the issue, or sensationalist campus rape news has lost its allure.
This is unfortunate. Utah schools and, in my opinion, especially BYU have the promise and potential to be safe, wonderful places of learning. We can hope that these scandals are the first step toward accomplishing that vision.
We must transition away from shame for victims, toward prosecuting offenders and encouraging a culture of true respect. But let's not wait any longer.
Steve Evans is an attorney based in Salt Lake City and the co-founder of By Common Consent, a Mormon blog.