Brigham Young University announced on Wednesday that it will no longer investigate the student-victims who report sexual assault for breaches of the honor code. BYU’s strict honor code aligns with the views of the Mormon Church and prohibits students from consuming alcohol or drugs and engaging in premarital sex. Under the university’s new amnesty clause “being a victim of sexual misconduct is never in violation of the Honor Code.”
The president of the university opened up an investigation to identify changes the school could make to help victims report their sexual assaults after many female students and alumni spoke publicly about the issue.
One student, Madi Barney said she felt “re-victimized” when she had to undergo an honor code investigation following her report of sexual assault and started an online petition for the university to adopt an amnesty clause. Another, Madeline MacDonald, said her honor code investigation made her feel like a target rather than a victim of a crime.
More than 24 students told the Salt Lake City Tribune that they did not report their assaults for fear of school punishment over violations such as drinking. Many of these survivors reported that their assailants purposefully used the honor code to intimidate and blackmail them into silence. Under the new amnesty clause, sexual assault victims cannot be disciplined for reporting their assault.
BYU professor Julie Valentine says that the amnesty clause will “let [victims] know that they should not hold any self-blame” and will help “educate the whole community and the campus that we can’t have victim blaming.”
The university is physically separating the Title IX and Honor Code offices and prohibits the two offices from sharing information with each other in addition to adopting the amnesty clause. BYU is also hiring a full time Title IX coordinator to oversee and enforce these changes.
The university is still under investigation by the Utah Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
This month the Feminist Majority Foundation released a multi-year report entitled Reinvigorating the Role of Title IX Coordinator: A Requirement and a Resource. The report highlights that there should be many more than the 23,000 Title IX Coordinators listed as contacts on the Education Department’s (ED) websites, pointing to a national lack of compliance with the ED’s 2015 guidance on the proactive roles of Title IX Coordinators.