BYU held its
first ever Rape Awareness conference this week. At the conference, representatives of BYU’s administration spoke regarding the role of the Honor Code Office with respect to both sexual offenders and victims. In the event of a report of sexual assault, the BYU police department reviews the report and then may provide that report to the Honor Code Office, depending in part upon the activities of the survivor in the event. BYU representatives reportedly made it clear that the Honor Code remains a primary rule of conduct at the university, and “we do not apologize for that.”
If this recounting is accurate, when victims of sexual violence at BYU report their attack, they potentially put their academic future at risk. If you’ve been raped while in your boyfriend’s bedroom, you’re in trouble. If you were drinking at a party and were raped, you’re in trouble. If you were fondling a partner who then raped you, you’re in trouble. There are many more Honor Code rules which may apply. The trouble is both ecclesiastical and academic. The Honor Code Office will report to and coordinate with the bishop of the student. A woman who has been sexually assaulted may find herself penalized, suspended, even expelled for the circumstances of her attack.
The problems with this approach are clear. These rules discourage the reporting of sexual abuse and shield the perpetrators. Victims are shamed into silence. In their very moment of spiritual and physical pain, the Honor Code serves to heap additional guilt upon their heads. They are perhaps left with the implication that they deserved their attack. And if nothing is reported, the greater sin of sexual violence goes unpunished. The veneer of righteousness presented by the Honor Code is preserved and the sepulchre is kept white.
I would welcome further explanation from BYU administration. I hope that I am wrong. I attended BYU, love BYU and support its aims. But to say that this approach is not the right one is an understatement. It would be a sinful, repugnant way to approach victims of sexual abuse. I call upon BYU to provide some explanation and to shield victims in their reporting and healing.
Update: I’ve been informed that this was not the first such event held at BYU.