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A former student at Brigham Young University-Hawaii has sued the school, asserting that the Mormon university's Honor Code prevented her from seeking help after she was sexually assaulted and as she was harassed repeatedly by a student government leader.
In a complaint filed Sept. 30 in federal court in Honolulu, the BYU-H student said she was working for the school's student government in October 2014, when a student government leader, who was her direct supervisor, drove her to a beach and sexually assaulted her during the return trip.
"Through the remainder of [the woman's] employment, [the defendant] used his position as ... supervisor and superior to direct and/or lure her to the offices of the BYU-H Student Association and other locations where he could isolate and repeatedly assault her," the lawsuit states.
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.
According to the suit, the woman previously had been suspended over an alleged violation of the school's Honor Code. Like other schools operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU-H has a code of conduct that forbids alcohol and coffee, restricts visitation between male and female students, imposes dress and grooming standards, and bans unmarried students from sexual activity.
The woman's previous suspension is "one of the reasons she felt powerless in this situation," said her attorney, Mark Gallagher. "She didn't feel she could go to the school and get anything other than an Honor Code violation."
A BYU-Hawaii spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit but sent a statement that said the school has a "zero-tolerance" policy for sexual misconduct and that counseling and support services are available to victims regardless of whether they file a report.
The school does not appear to exempt students who report sexual assault from Honor Code discipline; its sexual misconduct policy, posted online, states that "violations of university policy or the ... Honor Code do not make a victim at fault for sexual or criminal misconduct and will be addressed separately from the allegation."
The woman's complaint arises as BYU-Provo is facing a federal investigation into its compliance with Title IX, which requires universities to enact certain procedures to deal with sexual-assault reports. BYU officials in Provo launched an internal review of school policies in May; they say a study group will release its findings sometime this autumn. An online petition with more than 117,000 signatures urges the school to provide amnesty for students reporting sexual assaults.
The group's conclusions may influence policy at BYU-Hawaii, said Michael Johanson, spokesman for the school in Laie, Hawaii.
"We'll be very interested in the findings of that study and certainly look at those in the context of the Honor Code at BYU in Hawaii," Johanson said.
A spokesman for the LDS Church declined to comment on the suit.
The lawsuit states that in April 2015, the woman sought the position of student association vice president which is an appointed role, according to a news article on the BYU-H website.
"Immediately before the interview for this position, over which [the defendant] had influence, he called plaintiff to solicit sex as a quid pro quo for his support of her candidacy," the lawsuit states.
One week later, the woman quit her position with the student association, the lawsuit states. She was "psychologically incapable of taking her semester ending exams and special arrangements had to be made for her to take them off campus," according to the complaint.
She since has transferred to a school in Vancouver, Gallagher said. The man also no longer lives in Hawaii, the lawsuit states.
The woman's lawsuit seeks damages under Title VII and Title IX laws that forbid sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual discrimination at universities that receive federal funding.
The suit alleges that the BYU-H staff director over student activities suspected the student government leader was abusing his authority but did nothing to stop it.
The male former student accused in the complaint and included as a defendant was an international student; the lawsuit states he no longer lives in Hawaii, and no court filings identify his location. The Salt Lake Tribune was unable to reach him for comment.
Gallagher said the woman reported to police in 2015 after leaving BYU-H. No charges have been filed, Gallagher said.