So about that Op-Ed

I provided a brief op-ed to the Salt Lake Tribune about the BYU situation. They tell you never to read the comments, but I’ve seen some floating around the internet and wanted to address a couple of points.

First, let me note that I did not write the title to that op-ed and would not have written it that way. My original title was “What is BYU Waiting For?” which I felt was a more appropriate approach.

OK, so a couple of comments.

Really? You feel that some people at BYU (insinuation) feel it is acceptable to harass, grope and rape young women? Ridiculous.

It would be a more effective argument if you said that some people at BYU (insinuatoin [sic]) blame young women too often for being in a position to be sexually assaulted.

This is an interesting comment, and it’s possible my argument would have been stronger if I’d focused on the victim-blaming rather than the overall rape culture point. But yes, some people at BYU feel it is acceptable to harass, grope and rape. Thus we have harassment, groping and rape occurring. No, BYU officials do not encourage this behavior and actively preach against it. But there is a mindset at campuses in Utah that makes some people think that sexual violence is somehow their right.

Question Steve:
Why are there many reasons to “have faith” in a council headed by the very person (Janet Scharman) who is responsible for the processes in BOTH the Title IX and the Honor Code Offices? A committee head who has a professional (and likely personal) relationship with the director of the Title IX Office that spans at least a decade. What are those reasons, specifically, to have faith in such a council, Steve?

Good question. First, I don’t think Janet Scharman is actually in charge of the council. Second, some of the other members of the council (Julie Valentine in particular) are immensely qualified and have a track record of engaging with this issue in strong terms. Third, ultimately I think BYU wants to do the right thing (I recognize not all will share that belief, but I find it a necessary presumption).

To take the lack of news and claim that nothing is being done about the issue is a hasty conclusion. I don’t disagree that this issue needs to be addressed, and quickly, but it seems dishonest to me to make a certain claim, like the idea that BYU is dragging its feet, based on the fact that no one has spoken about it recently. Certainly if BYU is not taking action, it should be, but Evans implies that there is an unwillingness for them to do so simply because he hasn’t heard about it.

I think the chosen title feeds into this impression, and I did not mean to imply that BYU is unwilling to change – only that BYU needs to hurry and could/should have taken some steps already at least on an interim basis.

Comments

  1. Steve,
    Thank you for your continued efforts to bring awareness to this issue and to advocate for change.

  2. The $64,000 Answer says:

    My outsider’s view is that the title placed on the article by the Tribune is entirely appropriate, and accurate.

    I have said in this forum more than once that BYU, and the LDS Church in general, seems to be laboring under the misapprehension that whatever timescale it chooses to adopt in dealing with this question is the timescale that will be followed. The tacit assumption is that this is an internal matter in which nobody else has the right to interfere.

    That would be a charming degree of unreality if the underlying problem weren’t so grave. Every day that the University, and the Church, persists in their existing stance with respect to the victims is an act of continuing injustice toward them. If the appropriate internal authorities are incapable of seeing this, others are not. Hence the federal investigation, which almost certainly will have exceedingly uncomplimentary things to say about the attitude of said authorities when it is completed. That will not be the end of it, of course. It will only be the beginning.

    The LDS leadership had the opportunity to learn from the dreadful example given by my own Catholic Church. Thus far it has determinedly refused to take those lessons to heart, and to act on them. It will soon find, I fancy, that the civil authorities are quite prepared to take what they consider to be the necessary remedial actions, and to require BYU to yield to the state what it was not willing to yield to appeals to conscience and compassion.

  3. Darn your healthy outside perspective!

  4. A bunch of institutional problems converge in this situation to make it very hard for BYU to respond well in this crisis:

    –The LDS Church fears responding to outside pressure. This is a bias that both leaders and rank-and-file members share. From inside this mentality, it is hard to tell the difference between reasonable accommodation and unacceptable compromise of principle.

    –Policy changes at BYU apparently need the approval of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency, and the brethren are loathe to act without being deliberate and unanimous. It’s very hard to get anything done quickly in that state of affairs, especially on issues that are politically explosive. The weakness of the First Presidency right now probably contributes to this paralysis. (And the Big 12 problem is probably taking much of the time, attention, and political capital that would otherwise be used to address policies on sexual assault.)

    –In recent years BYU has actively deepened the insularity of its culture, which has always been turned inward in some unhealthy ways. This makes it harder to hear helpful messages from outside and harder to recognize a developing crisis.

    –There are some deeply entrenched elements of BYU’s culture that are among the most conservative influences in all of Mormonism. I’m thinking especially of BYU’s malign paternalism, which is embodied in the Honor Code Office and many other parts of BYU’s bureaucracy, like the Title IX Office. Many of the people in those positions feel not only entitled, but religiously called to preserve the power they wield.

    All of these reasons should make one skeptical that change will come to BYU without the kind of painful coercion that $64,000 Answer alludes to. On the other hand, it’s also true that there are many people at BYU who are very, very good on these issues. The resources are there to do some wonderful things, so I’m still hopeful. I think this is a massive test of leadership for both President Worthen and the Board of Trustees.

  5. Not being from Utah, I would be curious as to what you mean by the comment, “there is a mindset at campuses in Utah that makes some people think that sexual violence is somehow their right.”

    What exactly is that mindset? Like in words. And to clarify, your claim is that it is a certain “mindset” propagated by the university that compels otherwise rational people to feel that “sexual violence” is their “right”?!?

  6. pconnornc says:

    I am not sure what would constitute an acceptable time frame, but have seen that all universities that I follow have been criticized for not speedily responding or dragging out investigations.

    That either means that a) all of these universities are insular and tone deaf, b) the issues and their answers are difficult and don’t lend themselves to speedy response or c) it’s a bit of both.

  7. Aussie Mormon says:

    The time frame question comes down to; is it better to
    a) get a change of policy out quickly, and then possible have to make more changes as holes appear, or
    b) get it right the first time (or at least, least, less likely to have holes), but take longer to do it,
    or
    c) somewhere in between.
    For instance, is taking an extra month better to nut out a better policy? two months? six months? a year? How long your willing to give them for an improved policy is likely related to how much better the policy will be.

    Take assignments for instance: Assume there is a daily penalty for handing it in late. You might take the penalty to improve the assignment and make it worth it. (You might improve it from a 50 to a 100, lose 10 for handing it in a day late, leaving you 40 better off than you were before).
    Eventually it’s no longer worth trying to get it perfect when you’ve lost more marks than you’ll gain. (If you take more than 4 days to get it to 100, then you’ve lost all the marks you’ve gained. or more.).

    I guess the problem for us, looking at it from the outside, is that we don’t know where they are at with the process or what they are attempting to do.
    We know they have the data. Have they finished analysing it? Have they analysed it and are now trying to come up with solutions? Have they come up with a range of solutions and are now trying to assess them?

  8. Anelie, no, that is not my claim. My claim is that BYU is responsible for its campus culture, and the campus culture surely impacts sexual attitudes.

  9. I agree generally with a ‘measure twice cut once’ philosophy, but not when dealing with the treatment of rape victims and not when some interim steps are so obviously beneficial.

  10. Frank Saunders says:

    “But there is a mindset at campuses in Utah that makes some people think that sexual violence is somehow their right.” How do you know this? I think that most criminals, the world over, think that it is their right. Also, this “rape culture” “crisis” is very popular on campuses all over America. FBI or JD statistics don’t bear that out.

  11. The $64,000 Answer says:

    FBI and Justice Department statistics record only those rapes and sexual assaults that are reported to police. Most acts of sexual violence are not. Policies like BYU’s are part of the reason why.

    If you want to know how much of this kind of thing is going on, ask the students. When people do, the results are alarmingly consistent.

  12. i put some of those common sense steps up on a post at FMH today. There are really 2 goals in my mind. The first and most important are the basic measures to treat sexual assault victims the way they ought to be treated and decrease the ability of sexual predators to use the honor code as an effective control tactic. The second goal is for the BYU administration to show some accountability for clear systemic issues and straight-forward illegal activity (like accepting illegally obtained information from local law enforcement).

    I have seen some speculation that the university might be waiting for their beginning of the school year meeting with faculty to announce changes due to the study. We will see. Let’s hope they are substantial.

  13. Good thoughts. Thanks.

  14. “Anelie, no, that is not my claim. My claim is that BYU is responsible for its campus culture, and the campus culture surely impacts sexual attitudes.”

    Yes, but once again, HOW exactly is that culture contributing to sexual assault? You haven’t answered that question. I can see how the BYU culture may contribute to not REPORTING said sexual assault, but I do not see (nor have you given any evidence to) how the university contributes to anyone (stressed) thinking that sexual assault is their “right” (which is the term you used).

    I do not necessarily disagree with your op-ed or some of your opinions about the problem with reporting rape and assault at Utah campuses, but you must agree that your blanket comment about all Utah universities somehow condoning and promoting sexual assault (the committing of the act itself) is pretty ridiculous. Yes, at ANY university in the world SOME people (are you talking about students or the administration??) do probably think that it is okay to rape and assault sexually. This is not a problem limited to Utah. But the fact that drinking (which is the number one contributing factor at other universities) and fraternity life (another factor) are not a major part of most Utah university cultures kind of goes against your argument.

    So again, I am just wondering exactly what part of the Utah university “culture” do you feel contributes to anyone feeling that sexual assault is somehow “their right.”?

  15. Jane Smith says:

    Many people are still under the impression BYU obtained the police records in the Barney case because the accused rapists acquaintance delivered them to BYU’s honor code office. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, BYU’s honor code office had already requested the BYU police search the state-wide police database and SHARE the information found in the police database with them. The BYU police complied with the request and illegally shared the information with the BYU honor code office. http://www.sltrib.com/home/3956084-155/state-investigating-how-byu-police-access?fullpage=1

    The Salt Lake Tribune is also suing BYU to force the BYU Police to share records required under the open records the law but the state has taken BYU’s side and stated that because the BYU Police are a private entity, they do not have to comply with open records laws even though the BYU Police Departement has claimed in the past it is a “government entity” in order to defend itself in a lawsuit. http://www.sltrib.com/home/4105633-155/salt-lake-tribune-challenges-byu-police?fullpage=1

    There was, in at least Madi Barney’s case, clear sharing of private, protected information from Provo Police records, accessed by the BYU Police and shared with BYU’s Honor Code office. Not an honorable thing for BYU to do.

  16. Anelie, pretty interesting how you’ve progressed from a voyage of discovery (“not being from Utah!”) to one of accusation. Just be direct and tell us your intent already. As for your comment:

    “Yes, but once again, HOW exactly is that culture contributing to sexual assault? You haven’t answered that question.”

    Are you asking what the connection is between culture and sexual assault? I refer you to any number of googleable resources. If your question is more specific to Utah cultural elements, I can point you to wage disparities, educational disparities, patriarchal culture and other elements that are strong indicators of devaluing women generally, which has a fairly direct link to rape culture.

    “I can see how the BYU culture may contribute to not REPORTING said sexual assault, but I do not see (nor have you given any evidence to) how the university contributes to anyone (stressed) thinking that sexual assault is their “right” (which is the term you used).”

    Are you seriously saying that you don’t see how discouraging reporting contributes to thinking that sexual assault is their right? If you don’t see a connection there, you’re on your own,.

    “I do not necessarily disagree with your op-ed or some of your opinions about the problem with reporting rape and assault at Utah campuses,”

    Generous of you!

    “… but you must agree that your blanket comment about all Utah universities somehow condoning and promoting sexual assault (the committing of the act itself) is pretty ridiculous.”

    I must agree that a comment I never made is pretty ridiculous? OK.

    “But the fact that drinking (which is the number one contributing factor at other universities) and fraternity life (another factor) are not a major part of most Utah university cultures kind of goes against your argument.”

    Which argument? Your made up one? Or my actual argument? Drinking is definitely a factor in campus sexual violence, yes, but it is not the only factor. Very simplistic to suggest that the absence of drinking means that unrelated arguments about BYU rape are invalid.

    I don’t get it. Are you trying to say there’s no culture problem? Are you genuinely that unfamiliar with BYU/Utah culture that you are actually asking what that world is like? Or are you just trying to defend the University? If it’s the last, then just say so and don’t troll us.

  17. Steve:
    “I agree generally with a ‘measure twice cut once’ philosophy, but not when dealing with the treatment of rape victims and not when some interim steps are so obviously beneficial.”

    Can we make the assumption that one reason they have not adopted the policies you recommend is that, from their perspective, they are not “obviously beneficial?” It appears you are only willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are coming around to your way of thinking, albeit too slowly for your liking.

    Will they still have the benefit of the doubt if they come back and say that they are not changing the policy and they feel it to be the correct one, or is the only acceptable response to change the policy to match your view? Giving someone the benefit of the doubt in this situation means a recognition that (a) they may have access to information that you don’t; (b) they may be concerned about intended or unintended consequences that you aren’t aware of or concerned about; (c) they may have differing values than the one motivating you; or (d) they may be receiving inspiration or waiting to receive inspiration (which may dramatically differ from what you or I think on the subject).

    You, like me, are an attorney. Whenever I read a pleading and see a sentence like the one you wrote (where a contested issue is “obvious”), my assumption is that opposing counsel has not adequately examined the contrary viewpoint and is exposing his or her blindspot. As you can imagine, I make full use of that (as would you) in the litigation context.

    I don’t know how the honor code policy will (or should) change, and if it does change I have little indication of how it will change, but I can see potential concerns from my view from 5,000 feet away that make me believe your obvious change (even if ultimately right) is not so obvious.

    For example, accepting a blanket amnesty may interfere with the repentance process for women who have been sexually assaulted. Now before you misread me, I am not saying that a woman who was sexually assaulted needs to repent of the assault. But just because a woman is sexually assaulted, the repentance process is not magically circumvented — rape is not an acceptable replacement for Christ’s Atonement.

    If a woman violates the law of chastity, and is thereafter raped, that woman MUST go through the repentance process or she will be damned (just like each of us must do for each and every sin — I am not making special claims for sexual sin). If sexual assault grants amnesty for honor code violations (when those violations are also moral violations), how will that impact the repentance process of these women? Are we setting them up to be victimized twice — once by their attacker and another time by a culture and influence that leads them to mistakenly believe that the horror inflicted upon them obviates the need for the Atonement and repentance in their lives.

    I won’t dwell on this, but I will say that (in my uneducated opinion) this is likely a serious concern for the Brethren. Their primary consideration will likely be what will bring about the best result for these women’s long-term destiny. The Atonement must be a part of that, and the Atonement must be applied to each and every sin (including those happening on or around the time of a sexual assault). From this viewpoint, amnesty can be seen as the most cruel and heartless thing that could be done for a woman who has been assaulted — denying the relief that the Atonement (and only the Atonement) can bring.

    There are the other ones that I have seen batted around (protection from false allegations, avoiding additional assaults, etc). I’ve really gone on to long, but the point that I am making is that the answers are not so obvious as you make them appear, and trust in the Brethren means trust that they may come up with a response different (or contrary) to what you think is right — and that they, and not you, may be right in that conclusion.

  18. Jonathan, your intermixing of the Brethren and matters of BYU policy is odd. Your argument basically reduces to placing BYU beyond all criticism. Further, it confounds the Honor Code with individual repentance. Let’s not mix these things up. Suffice it to say that I absolutely disagree with your assertion that amnesty would get in the way of the repentance process. Absolutely disagree, 100000% forever.

    Your second paragraph, though, says some interesting things and is worth some further thought. Thanks.

  19. Steve:
    “Jonathan, your intermixing of the Brethren and matters of BYU policy is odd.”

    My understanding is that the Trustees (meaning the Brethren) must approve any change. If I am incorrect on that, my apologies.

    “Your argument basically reduces to placing BYU beyond all criticism.”

    Not at all, it is an imperfect institution run my imperfect people. I am just pointing out that humility in any conflict requires the recognition that the other side may be right and we may be wrong.

    “Further, it confounds the Honor Code with individual repentance.”

    Sorry, I thought I made that distinction with my clarification when I stated “If sexual assault grants amnesty for honor code violations (when those violations are also moral violations).” My attempt was to make clear that not all honor code violations are necessarily also moral violations. That being said, I can imagine that there are those who don’t confess because of fear of getting expelled that would otherwise confess and those who would not repent if the honor code office granted amnesty — we are mortal people who are persuadable by incentives, and I don’t know which way they cut. I agree that the Honor Code (particularly the process) is independent of repentance, but I likewise contend that it inevitably affects repentance (likely in ways both good and bad).

    “Suffice it to say that I absolutely disagree with your assertion that amnesty would get in the way of the repentance process. Absolutely disagree, 100000% forever.”

    I figured you might, but my suggestion is that it is possibly a concern for the Brethren (even if, in the end, they ultimately agree with you). I cite Elder Scott in his talk “Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse;”

    “Most often, the victim is innocent because of being disabled by fear or the power or authority of the offender. At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse. Your priesthood leader will help assess your responsibility so that, if needed, it can be addressed. Otherwise the seeds of guilt will remain and sprout into bitter fruit. Yet no matter what degree of responsibility, from absolutely none to increasing consent, the healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ can provide a complete cure.”

    It is possible, at least, that the Brethren are concerned about the “seeds of guilt” that “will remain and sprout into bitter fruit.” I honestly don’t make a recommendation, and the issue is complex enough that I cannot begin to fathom the right answer (and I am glad I am not in the position to make the decision), I only point that out to show that the situation isn’t clear cut.

    Anyhow, I appreciate your kind response.

  20. Also note, as with most things, Elder’s Scott’s comment cuts both ways — there is a time for addressing responsibility and it may not be in the short term in relation to an Honor Code complaint.

  21. Jonathan,

    I think you fundamentally misunderstand the emotional, spiritual and physical recovery from rape. Caring about victims of sexual assault mental and spiritual health is far more complicated. You can’t simply analytically separate events the way you would like to. Mental health professionals who specialize in sexual trauma will tell you that the last thing you want to do is get anywhere near the “if only you hadn’t…x, you wouldn’t have been…y”. Its a devastating path for recovery. So why you admirably want to care for the soul of sexual assault victims you should educate yourself far more about the actual, immediate psychological, spiritual and emotional dynamics involved.

  22. “It is possible, at least, that the Brethren are concerned about the “seeds of guilt” that “will remain and sprout into bitter fruit.””

    If “the Brethren” are more concerned with that, Jonathan, than with making sure that rapists are caught and prosecuted, BYU should be investigated and sanctioned by the federal government.

  23. Jane Smith says:

    Jonathan, I can attest “bitter fruit” comes when a rape victim feels her ecclesiastical leaders are more concerned about the circumstances of her rape than getting her the help she needs to heal. If they are more concerned about punishing her for her misdeeds than helping her feel Gods love and the reality of the atonement, that is where the real danger lies.

    Steve, I bring up the information in the Tribune because dealing with a state investigation into the sharing of information between the Provo police, BYU police and the honor code office and the lawsuit for records, will most likely slow down this whole process.

  24. rah:
    “I think you fundamentally misunderstand the emotional, spiritual and physical recovery from rape.”

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. I am readily willing to acknowledge my ignorance on the subject.

    “So why you admirably want to care for the soul of sexual assault victims you should educate yourself far more about the actual, immediate psychological, spiritual and emotional dynamics involved.”

    Fortunately for everyone, I am not in a position where my opinion matters on the subject. It is my hope that my example (even if poorly crafted — which it may have been) doesn’t distract from the point it was made to support — namely that the changes needed may not be as obvious as they seem and a delay (or even a different decision than you espouse) may not necessarily be a negative thing that it appears.

    Anyhow, thank you for the response and the benefit of the doubt that it showed to me. I appreciate it.

  25. A#4
    “If “the Brethren” are more concerned with that, Jonathan, than with making sure that rapists are caught and prosecuted, BYU should be investigated and sanctioned by the federal government.”

    Can’t they be concerned with both? Wouldn’t a perfect policy maximize the capacity for repentance (if needed) for the victim while also maximizing the rapists that are caught and prosecuted? How do those scales balance? To engage in hyperbole (merely to illustrate the concept), isn’t it better that one rapist go free than that dozens of women be damned?

    Again, I am not espousing anything contrary to your opinion because I simply don’t know. I share the goal of minimizing the pain of the victims, bringing the perpetrators to justice, and bringing about healing. I don’t presume to have a clue how to bring any of those things about, and as I have said it is fortunate for everyone that I am not in the position to make those decisions. My one point — my only point — is to indicate that the solution may not be as obvious as it seems and that the delay (or even a contrary decision) may not be unjustified or may even be correct.

    Jane:
    “If they are more concerned about punishing her for her misdeeds than helping her feel Gods love and the reality of the atonement, that is where the real danger lies.”

    We agree on this wholeheartedly. The only question is the path that best leads the individual to accepting the Atonement. I don’t know what that is, others seem quite sure — they may be right and I may be wrong.

  26. Jonathan,

    “I don’t have a clue about how to bring any of those things about”. I would suggest that your admitted ignorance about this topic is shared widely by most the men involved ecclesiastic and administrative position that end up being responsible for addressing these circumstances at the Y. That might be one of the problems of having a male dominated hierarchy. In fact, abundant evidence exists that this whole system is has been set up and is run based on male assumptions and ignorance. Hence, the bad outcomes.

    Also, I will take your hyperbole statement on face value and say: Morally it is more important to catch a single rapist than marginally punish a dozen women more for a chastity violation that can be washed away with the atonement. Sexual sins or not, coercion and abuse are by far the morally more objectionable crime. We as a society have a responsibility to protect vulnerable people from predators far more than we have a responsibility to try and shame and control consensual sexual behavior, even if we view it as a sin. I think LDS people tend to lose perspective on this far too easily.

  27. rah,
    Yes!

  28. Thanks rah.

  29. rah:
    I have appreciated your comments, and I thank you for them.

    ” Morally it is more important to catch a single rapist than marginally punish a dozen women more for a chastity violation that can be washed away with the atonement.”

    This, to be fair, didn’t engage the argument the hyperbole was intended to support. Admittedly the Honor Code Office can only marginally punish those women for a chastity violation, and admittedly it can be washed away with the Atonement. The argument that is not being made (and I cannot make it, out of my ignorance, but I have also not seen it made because it is so often presented as obvious that it is never defended) is that the Honor Code Office does not have a positive effect on the repentance process. To paraphrase Alma, while it is better to repent without being compelled to repent, sometimes being compelled to repent results in real repentance. I could see the Honor Code being a positive for victims or a negative for them (or being a positive for some victims and a negative for others), and I can see any potential changes in the same way.

    “I would suggest that your admitted ignorance about this topic is shared widely by most the men involved ecclesiastic and administrative position that end up being responsible for addressing these circumstances at the Y.”

    Might I share a thought with you? Let’s assume that you are correct and that my ignorance is of a kind with those who are involved in the ecclesiastical and administrative positions at BYU. Though I am not even in a decision-making capacity, I would like to know and understand the correct solution — were I in a position to actually make such a decision, I would be far more invested in acquiring information. With your own analogy in mind, I could perhaps be a roadmap to how to persuade those in those positions to your desired conclusion. And as that roadmap, I can perhaps show how some of the engagement strategies of those who disagree with the current policy may improved (or how they may even be counterproductive).

    I read on these topics far more than I post, and I try to think through them to the best of my limited ability (and with my limited perspective). Often there seems to be yelling at each other from opposite sides, where one side’s position is so obvious that it is never truly defended and the other sides position is so obvious that it is never truly defended. I see both sides advocating primarily through social or political constructs (rather than theological ones) and/or conclusions presented as self-evident. I would love to read something from someone who truly knows what they are talking about that works from the following assumptions, while engaging the best arguments of the opposing point of view (and if it exists, my apologies for not having found it):

    1) The single most important thing that we can do for those who are victims is to help them to accept the Atonement, as no one and nothing can heal the way Christ can heal (and, ultimately, while temporal healing has the potential to assist spiritual healing no temporal healing has meaning if it stops spiritual progression);

    2) The single most important thing that we can do for those who are perpetrators is to help them accept the Atonement, as no one and nothing can undo the damage they have caused themselves and their victims the way Christ can (and, ultimately, no temporal punishment has meaning except if it facilitates spiritual progression). Rape is horrible, but does not place the rapist beyond Christ’s love or the power of the Atonement to bring complete forgiveness.

    3) The purpose of the Honor Code is (or should be) to (a) prevent future victimization and (b) to facilitate the spiritual progression of both the victim and the perpetrator. I’ve mentioned how I could see this cutting both ways on repentance, but I could also see the protection portion cutting both ways as well. On the one hand strict adherence may keep women out of dangerous situations but on the other hand discouraging reporting may keep predators on campus. Like so many aspects of this, I haven’t seen anyone attempt something substantive to say that it will or will not reduce the number of future victims to change the policy. It would seems, logically, that if rape culture is real on BYU campus, that efforts to keep women out of dangerous situations will do more to protect them than getting a rapists off campus. It would also seem that, if rape culture is not real, then getting rid of the rare rapist would do more to protect women than efforts to keep them out of bad situations. Yet I find the two sides seemingly arguing their opposite sides’s positions, and both sides doing so without much evidence.

    The closest thing that I have ever found to address these issues is Elder Scott’s talk, which informs my opinion to the extent that I have one. I would love to have someone (Steve?, you?) who knows about these issues take Elder Scott’s talk and what they know and make the argument that the change in the policy best accomplishes the three goals of bringing both the perpetrator and victim to partake of the Atonement, and having the Honor Code serve to both protect future victims and be an assistance to both victim and perpetrator. I’ve seen assertions, but the best evidence presented in support of them that I have seen are anecdotal. Is there good data to support either side? It is fine and dandy to “preach to the choir,” so to speak, but if they are ignorant in the same way I am yet of good will in the same way I am of good will, it is possible they share the very same concerns I have. I would be persuaded if someone truly made the case. Of course, my opinion doesn’t matter all that much but if those in the positions to make decisions are really all that similar to me, then perhaps they share my same desire for information tailored to the largest goals of the organization and the eternal welfare of those involved. Hearing that the changes were obvious didn’t persuade me, and yet I genuinely remain open to being persuaded. Perhaps a refinement in argument would be productive.

    I’m not a pound of flesh guy on either side of the equation — punishment only interests me to the extent it facilitates accessing the Atonement (or, in the case of the perpetrator, also isolating them from future victims). You talk about the more morally objectionable crime, but in my experience the largest sin in the world is the one that I am dealing with right now. And, God willing, if I am able to apply the Atonement in my life sufficient to escape this sin then the largest sin in the world will be the one I go to war with next. Grading sins (especially when we point to others as the “big” sinners) is often counterproductive even when true. The most morally objectionable crime in the life of the perpetrator is likely their sin towards their victim, but the most morally objectionable sin in the life of the victim is not the sin of the perpetrator and accepting the Atonement is a necessity for her. I do not know how to facilitate that, and everything everyone is suggesting might be correct (Elder Scott even hints at it), but that principle of the victim still needing the Atonement is undoubtedly true.

    Show me that the Honor Code as constituted negatively affects the repentance process for the victims and/or the perpetrators. Show me the proposed changes would positively affect the repentance process for the victims and/or the perpetrators. Show me that there are more victims now than we would have if we changed the Honor Code. Show me an engagement and response to the best arguments against your position. Show it from the eternal standpoint that should inform our decisions rather than the culture war that seems to inform so much of the discussion. Or, more to the point, show it to the people who actually matter — it will almost certainly be far more persuasive than merely saying that a certain change is obvious.

    Anyhow, I have appreciated your discussion on this issue.

  30. Jonathan,

    If you had/have a daughter who was assaulted, would you really want an minimally trained part-time male bishop alone in a small room with her, probing her for the details of a traumatic rape to determine if she held any degree of responsibility?

  31. The concepts of repentance & the atonement have no place in a conversation about rape.

  32. Pete:
    “If you had/have a daughter who was assaulted, would you really want an minimally trained part-time male bishop alone in a small room with her, probing her for the details of a traumatic rape to determine if she held any degree of responsibility?”

    Understand your presumption: If having him in that room with her, having that conversation, helps her acquire the healing of the Atonement, then yes I am for it. If, on the other hand, his actions are merely clumsy and damaging serving no larger or more eternal purpose, then of course I wouldn’t.

    But which is it? The answer I get is that “obviously” having a “minimally trained part-time male bishop alone in a small room with her” serves no larger purpose and will only hurt her. My gut might agree with that, but my gut feels the same way about knee surgery and yet it was great once I recovered. In contrast to my gut, I have the comments of Elder Scott:

    “At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse. Your priesthood leader will help assess your responsibility so that, if needed, it can be addressed.”

    This seems to countenance the exact situation you are describing, and saying it is a positive. I have learned, through experience, that when my gut tells me one thing but an Apostle tells me something else my gut tends to have a pretty bad track record.

    I don’t want my daughter (or anyone) needlessly or thoughtlessly hurt. I don’t want my daughter (or anyone) stifled in her eternal progression. As I said, maybe a portion of the answer is in Elder Scott’s comments, demonstrating that the conversation has to happen but it doesn’t have to happen right away. Maybe the right answer is the minimally trained part-time male bishop sitting in a room with her five, ten, or twenty years down the road. I honestly don’t know.

  33. Jonathan, your continued confusion of Honor Code policy and the repentance process is a grievous error.

  34. p:
    “The concepts of repentance & the atonement have no place in a conversation about rape.”

    If you mean that the victim does not need to repent of being a victim, then I absolutely agree. If you mean that the victim, on account of being a victim, is exempt from the universal requirement to repent I disagree.

    But in either case the Atonement has the only power to bring about true and lasting healing for both sinner and victim.

  35. Steve:
    “Jonathan, your continued confusion of Honor Code policy and the repentance process is a grievous error.”

    My assertion is that the Honor Code policy has an impact on repentance. Incentives inevitably affect behavior. Do you believe that the honor code is completely irrelevant to it?

    I am not arguing that the Honor Code Office is or should occupy a role as an ecclesiastical leader – no revelation, to my knowledge, is involved with that assignment. I am arguing that it does have an impact (which you seem to agree — otherwise you wouldn’t be concerned about the policy). And responsible consideration of the Honor Code necessitates consideration of what behavior is being incentivized (another proposition you seem to agree with — again why would you care otherwise). Finally I am saying that an eternal perspective should be one of the things considered.

    If the Honor Code can decrease reportings of rape, as alleged, then can it also impact those who take the necessary steps to repentance?

  36. Yes, by and large I think the Honor Code Office is irrelevant (or irrelevant-to-negative) on matters of personal repentance.

  37. Steve:

    “Yes, by and large I think the Honor Code Office is irrelevant (or irrelevant-to-negative) on matters of personal repentance.”

    Again, you may well be right on that (I can draw both your conclusion and the opposite conclusion in the absence of data), but this is the conclusory self-evident language I am discussing. What is the foundation for your opinion? It’s fair enough if you don’t want to (or don’t have time) to answer me on this issue (I’m just some bozo on the internet, after all), but I just point it out because it is a needed hole that would benefit from being filled.

  38. Jonathan, if you were any more tone-deaf, you’d be my ward’s Primary trying to sing “Praise to the Man.”

  39. Steve:

    One final point, and then I’ll bow out (I fear I may have been taking us too far afield). I have seen a number of individuals talking about the disconnect and how some in positions of leadership aren’t respecting their opinions.

    You are a lawyer, and you understand persuasion. Presumably the Honor Code exists for a reason, and those who are in charge of it likely see significant value in it. It would seem that, before you acquired any real capacity to persuade, you would need to understand how the decision-makers see the Honor Code, what value they see it having, and how this value would be benefited from adopting the changes proposed. If the decision-makers believe the Honor Code protects students, fashioning the argument that the changes you want to make best serve to protect the students seems to me to be the very best thing you can do.

    Saying that the Honor Code is irrelevant (and I understand you didn’t say that — I am using shorthand for argument’s sake that I know may well misrepresent your true argument) and should be changed will do nothing to get your cause heard by those who think that the Honor Code serves a valued purpose. Seeing as how it exists, that likely describes a good portion of the decision-makers now. I doubt you will get far influencing them on the rest of your ideas if your starting point is that the Honor Code is irrelevant-to-negative unless you can really show them that this is the case.

    With that, I’ll bow out. Thanks for your comments, and hopefully mine are taken in the spirit they are made. I genuinely hope these complex issues are worked out in the way best for everyone, and I am likewise genuinely grateful for people on both sides of this who are passionate (with the hope that good arguments and data will come from that passion).

  40. Jonathan, thanks for your politeness.

  41. I would guess that the most common (if not the most severe) sexual assaults at BYU have nothing to do with drinking parties or strangers in bushes or physical force. I would guess that a large fraction involve make out sessions in private rooms that start out consensual but move beyond that when one partner’s touching goes a level beyond what the other is comfortable with. These are situations where men can be victims as easily as women, where the victims don’t always speak up right away, and where the victims may feel tremendously guilty for not “just walking away” sooner.

    In such a situation, it is common that both partners have a few consensual sins to repent of, things that have to be cleared up through a bishop and/or the honor code office. But what should happen with the non-consensual part? The proposed amnesty would absolve either partner of honor code violation in exchange for accusing the other partner of a non-consensual act. It would be functionally not unlike plea bargaining arrangements from law enforcement, where your own transgressions are forgiven when you implicate someone else in greater transgressions. But it would also set up a kind of prisoner’s dilemma, where each party benefits from accusing the other. Note that it is quite possible that both parties are guilty of at least some unsolicited touching. In fact, I would wager that in the typical “make out session gone too far” this is quite common.

    And you have to wonder… Leaving aside the question of encouraging “false reports,” is it possible that these rules would lead victims to report things they actually don’t want to report? Or to present as “assault” actions that they don’t personally view quite that way? Are there at least some cases where the partners would be better off confronting each other directly and leaving the university out of it? Could the amnesty be crafted in a more careful way, to cover the cases where it would be most helpful and leave out the cases where it might actually cause problems? I think that once you start considering the possibilities, it becomes clearer why BYU has to take some time to think things through, even if they eventually decide that full amnesty is the right policy.

  42. Talk of personal repentance by the victim feels really distorted to me. I have had the privilege of listening to two rape victims. (I did have some official seeming hats on, and some might label it “counseling,” but that would be to aggrandize my role.) In retrospect, recalling the conversations years later, it is true that I can think of things the victim might have done differently about which she might feel some regret. But in the moment, listening and praying and wanting only the best for her, the idea of ‘repentance’–of finding something wrong that could be a reason or a fault or a fix–did not cross my mind. Absolutely 100% not there on my part, except that in each case the victim brought up some such thing in a self-blame mode and I could only feel to say “put it out of your mind, it’s not your fault!”
    ‘Helping the victim repent’ is so NOT what happened in my real world experience that I have a hard time accepting it as part of the conversation.
    (In anticipation of counter-arguments: I too have heard the tales of bishops (and others) doing that very thing. I don’t know them first-hand, but to the extent it happens I am sorry. It’s wrong. If I had an audience I would apologize to the victims, and I would apologize to the bishops for a system that sometimes makes them act that way, rather than like human beings.)

  43. To Harold’s point, a system that links academic standing to personal moral conduct in non-academic matters always runs the risk of perverse incentives regarding reporting.

    When I was in graduate school, I reported a moral transgression to my bishop. I had my temple recommend pulled and went through a repentance process lasting the better part of a year. Importantly, though, I was able to keep on going to school. I hate saying “without a shadow of a doubt,” but I have about five-nines certainty that had my doing so resulted in facing academic sanction, I would not have gone to my bishop.

    The return of an in loco parentis model to universities–in the form of “safe spaces,” “nurturing communities,” and other infantilizing terms–is going to make what BYU does considerably less peculiar, except that it will enforce a very different morality. I obviously do not see this as a positive development.

  44. If Jonathan is so concerned with other people’s repentance, shouldn’t the rapist’s repentance be foremost in his mind? After all, rape is not only a felony but a grievous sin. If a university policy that facilitates the report if sexual assault is in place, it will be easier to hold rapists accountable, which is a vital part of the process if repentance.
    Victims of rape should be consoled, not admonished. A prying desire to discover and punish any consensual activity at BYU beyond a kiss is sordid, and in the case of this policy, is definitely missing the forest for the trees. Let us place more trust in others’ ability to recognize right from wrong and find their own path to repentance. That is precisely what God does, and are we not commanded to be like Him in all things?

  45. The $64,000 Answer says:

    Not being Mormon, and not being especially well-read on the theological and doctrinal intricacies of that faith, I am not the person to pursue Mr Cavender down the rabbit-hole of his — if he will forgive me saying so — ghastly interpretation of the concept of Atonement. I will only say that his opinions bear a marked similarity to the historic response of the Catholic Church — with which I am a great deal more familiar — to cases of child sexual assault perpetrated by members of its clergy. There too we often heard assertions of how the victim, if he or she was aged seven or over (conventionally regarded by Catholics as the age of reason) shared culpability with the perpetrator for the offense. We saw cases of victims who reported the crimes to Church authorities being granted absolution (unasked) through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (“Confession”) and assigned forms of penance for their supposed sinful conduct. We heard Cavenderesque efforts to minimize the gravity of the crimes by collapsing the differences between various kinds of sin, putting offender and victim on the same moral plane. Poor Mr Cavender’s arguments may appear fresh and compelling in his eyes, but to those of us who have been around the block with this kind of thing for two or three decades, it’s a very dreary form of déjà vu all over again.

    I fear that in the midst of the various intriguing speculations upthread about the applicability of various federal regulations and with how the Quorum of the Twelve might be filling the hours between breakfast and luncheon, we are in danger of losing sight of the fundamentals of the matter. And if I may say so, it is my fellow bearers of the Y chromosome who appear to be having particular difficulty in grasping them (though it should be said that many women can be surprisingly tone-deaf about them also).

    The salient point, in a single sentence, is this: To be raped is to experience degradation and dehumanization in its most intense, most comprehensive, and most damaging form.

    I understand that Mr Cavender and others who think like him may be reluctant to accept the truth of this statement — though he has very honorably acknowledged his ignorance of the dynamics of sexual violence, the which (the acknowledgement, that is to say, not the ignorance) is to his credit. That failure of imagination or of empathy does not, however, alter the fact of the matter. The only thing I can think of that equals rape in this regard is physical torture, and it is not in my view coincidental that the two are so often conjoined.

    That being the case, where does the duty of the followers of Christ lie? First and foremost, it consists in binding up the wounds of the victims, who have undergone a personally catastropic and life-threatening misfortune. (If her or his life was not at risk during the assault itself, it most definitely is in the aftermath, as a brief trawl through the statistics on suicidality among rape victims will serve to confirm.) It requires a social and collective assertion of the grievousness of the harm done to her or him; practical and sustained assistance in overcoming the sequelae of the attack, which may well be lifelong; and public affirmation of her or his dignity, value and worth so as effectively to contradict the actions of the rapist, who through the crime he or she perpetrated systematically denied all three.

    To withhold these things from victims is at the very least unChristlike, and almost certainly much more than that. In my view it is sinful. Every day that we do so, we inflict further injury and injustice upon them. And while we continue in this callous and indifferent stance, it is as futile as it is unpersuasive to try to tell them that we really care very much about their “long-term destiny.”

    To be honest, when people speak of “the relief that the Atonement (and only the Atonement) can bring,” while refusing to lift so much as the tip of their finger to help their suffering sisters and brothers bear the heavy burdens laid upon them, it makes me wonder just how concerned they really are.

  46. pconnornc says:

    Jonathan – I have greatly appreciated your tone and perspective. You probably don’t need anyone defending you, but I clearly did not hear you express a reluctance to accept how despicable rape is (those were interesting words to be put in your mouth). I would also not consider you tone deaf – in fact you express a great deal of humility and willingness to appreciate other’s positions (which doesn’t appear to be reciprocated).

    I get exhausted with the “my perspective/understanding is the only true perspective/understanding – anything else will be attacked” vibe that sometimes is found here (and is constantly found in political forums). A dose of humility and meekness never hurts.

    Let me just say definitively, for those who doubt, I have heard first hand testimony of a youth raped by an adult about how the atonement has been critical in healing them. Elder Scott is correct about the seeds of guilt that can get planted, and how the atonement washes them away – whether they are accurate or not. I hope we are not too dismissive of the power and value of it. Though when to focus on it vs focusing on “throwing the creep in jail” would be another conversation.

  47. $64,000 Answer,

    Just want to say I appreciate your perspective, and I think your contribution has been very valuable here. (Possibly even more valuable than your moniker would suggest :))

  48. The $64,000 Answer says:

    It’s kind of you to say so, K. As I know you understand very well, what we are discussing are not mere abstractions, but human beings who are very precious to God. Their urgent needs are not to be ignored, or debated over their heads as though they themselves had nothing to say in the matter. They have been subjected to more than enough indignity already.

  49. Amen $64K. Really appreciate your thoughts.

  50. I read your op-ed linked from this post. While I agree with many of your general points and appreciate the additional attention you bring to this issue, I would like further clarification on some of your claims. I would also take friendly exception with a few points.
    You wrote:
    “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.”

    What is the factual basis for this conclusion? What I think we know is that rape in Utah as a whole is well above the national average and has been from around 2000. As far as college campuses are concerned, there does not appear (based on a thorough phone based Google search) to be any evidence that rape is more prevalent than other college campuses and is around 20%. This figure is disgustingly high and indicates a culture deficiency that spans religion, geography, etc. How do you justifiably make the conclusion that rapes on Utah college campuses are due to a narrower set of cultural norms? Perhaps they are, but given the data I’m not sure one can make the conclusion in any sort of meaningful way.

    Second point: the relative increase in rapes in Utah relative to the national average from 2000 is curious. I haven’t delved into the data, but this might deserves some attention. If rape on Utah college campuses is more common than the national average, in line with the general statewide trend (this is an assumption that doesn’t necessarily follow and I haven’t seen data to show that campus rape and statewide averages are equal), but this relative increase occurred over the last 15 or so years, how does one blame social norms that have probably only weakened over the last 15 years? I’ll counter my own argument and admit that there is a reasonable argument to be made that Mormon orthodoxy has indeed been hardening as a result of social polarization over the last 20 years or so. If this polarization and hyper-orthodoxy is indeed the cause for increased rape rates in Utah, it would be interesting and perhaps useful to understand.

    Last thing: you said that, “yes, some people at BYU feel it is acceptable to harass, grope and rape. Thus we have harassment, groping and rape occurring.”
    While this may be true, it is not logically true, and I think it is important to remember that there are probably many perpetrators of rape that fit in a slightly different category:
    some people at BYU feel it is unacceptable to harass, grope and rape, yet they harass, grope and rape.
    Indeed, it is likely this category of troubled and conflicted people that deserve our focus from the standpoint of understanding the cause and prevention of rape, and maybe especially rape and other sexual assault occurring in Utah.

  51. Speaking of data, I have yet to see a survey or even an individual respond that they “feel it is acceptable to harass, grope or rape.” So, I am confused by the claim and would love to see data.

    More likely, I would think that even those who understand that they have done those things don’t even think they are OK – but would unfortunately give a terrible reason for their behavior.

    I think one difficult aspect of this is defining when those terms happen. I am following a case where 2 men have been tried with mistrials (2 separate trials, both juries were split). It is complex, he said/she said and tragic. Where the HC could have benefitted in this case was that all involved were intoxicated.

  52. Richard, good questions all around.

  53. So much for the taking of one’s chastity to be likened to murder.

  54. Jared vdH says:

    Hey, look at that. They’re actually talking to experts rather than Op-Ed writers:

    https://news.byu.edu/news/national-leader-sexual-assault

  55. Aw, you’re so sweet, Jared. Thanks.

  56. Jared vdH says:

    Sorry, that was unnecessarily snarky. Too much internet for me today.

    I mostly just wanted to point out that they’ve provided an update as to what’s going on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s