Former Day Saints
April 14, 2016 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Students at Brigham Young University, the private Provo-based university owned by the LDS church, have alleged that the school’s Honor Code Office investigates and sometimes penalizes victims who report sexual crimes. Honor Code investigations were launched even when the accused assailants were not BYU students, and when the attacks occurred off campus and away from campus housing. Ostensibly this is to punish violations of the school's honor code that may have given rise to the situation where the assault occurred.

One student identified as "Brooke" reported her off-campus rape to the Honor Code Office, and she was subsequently expelled and barred from reapplying for two years, because she openly admitted that the attacker had convinced her to try acid just prior to the attack. Meanwhile BYU football players who break the honor code are merely suspended for a few games.
"She was telling me at BYU people falsely report rapes because the Honor Code Office is so strict on premarital sex, and people report rapes so they won't get investigated," MacDonald said.
[...]
Emily said she hadn't broken the Honor Code in either assault, but in the school's eyes, that would also have been determined by the defendant's word.

"Basically, the Honor Code violation would have been based on when I said no," she said. "If I had let him go far enough … I'd have gotten kicked out."
Students have started a petition asking BYU to stop punishing victims of sexual assault.

"It's hurtful to survivors, and most significantly it's the kind of thing that will have a chilling effect on survivors coming forward," said S. Daniel Carter, a campus security consultant, "It's contrary to an institution's goal of combating sexual violence."
posted by Hot Pastrami! (36 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
"It's hurtful to survivors, and most significantly it's the kind of thing that will have a chilling effect on survivors coming forward," said S. Daniel Carter, a campus security consultant

That's BYU's motive, right there. Colleges -- even the ones that aren't sexually regressive in their very constitutions -- are desperately afraid of their own sexual assault statistics. Sure, they'd rather not have anyone getting raped, but thanks to the Clery Act, they have to report them if they are reported to the school. If they can keep survivors from reporting them, then that's almost as good as the assault not happening.
posted by Etrigan at 12:05 PM on April 14, 2016 [46 favorites]


I am shocked...SHOCKED! to find that a school entrenched in a religion that has embraced hate since its founding doesn't treat women with respect.

Beyond the sympathy that I feel for the victims here, the only thing that makes me sad about this is thinking of all of the non-LDS schools that are horrible to victims as well.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:08 PM on April 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


Religious organizations tend to "freeze" their morality at whatever era their founders existed. So, Mormons and a lot of conservative American Protestant denominations espouse a kind of warped 1840's -era American morality on a lot of issues: if a woman got raped, she must have been indulging in immorality somehow, black people are shifty, dangerous and vaguely subhuman, America is the New Israel, etc.

The current issue in Mormonism is that the 1840's era "factory settings" on the religion are no longer operating correctly, and the devs hate writing patches (like they did with the whole black-people issue) so they will try to wait it out until the customer stops complaining.

Sadly, a lot of lives will be ruined in the process - but that's religion for you.
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 12:26 PM on April 14, 2016 [12 favorites]


Meanwhile, at General Conference...
posted by Brocktoon at 12:31 PM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Actually, the "religion as software for the human brain" analogy is pretty apt, now that I think about it.

Q: the factory settings on $religion don't seem to be working for me. Can I change them? Or do you plan to release a patch to deal with these issues?

A: no, the system was designed to operate perfectly under ideal conditions from the beginning. Please consider changing your operating environment or changing how you operate the app so that your usage will more correctly match the perfect design specifications. Please note that deviation from allowed design parameters is a serious crime.
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 12:35 PM on April 14, 2016 [17 favorites]


Religious organizations tend to "freeze" their morality at whatever era their founders existed.

Or perhaps what they do is entrench their founder's values? This can be bad as in this particular case or it can be quite good as in the case of DePaul University's ethos of whole community service.
posted by srboisvert at 12:39 PM on April 14, 2016


Those who wonder if Mormons openly oppose this and/or have widely varying personal opinion that often pits them against BYU and the church might be interested in reading some of the discussion about this policy over at By Common Consent. I think the BCC post probably should have been the main link in this MeFi post.
posted by The World Famous at 12:39 PM on April 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


Or perhaps what they do is entrench their founder's values?

This is certainly not the case with Mormonism, where the entrenched values are generally those of white political conservatives in the 1960s, and where the "values" of religion's founders (e.g. Smith, Young, et al.) are in most significant ways directly contrary to the church's present "values."
posted by The World Famous at 12:41 PM on April 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


Religious organizations tend to "freeze" their morality at whatever era their founders existed.

Do you have any evidence for this assertion? Given the lack of rigor you exhibit when developing your thesis (e.g., Mormonism was founded in 1830, not the "1840's-era") my guess this is just some bullshit.
posted by layceepee at 12:48 PM on April 14, 2016


This can be bad as in this particular case or it can be quite good as in the case of DePaul University's ethos of whole community service.

DePaul University? The same school where a law professor recently argued that it is wrong to encourage law students to perform community service by participating in law clinics that give legal assistance to the disadvantaged, because this results in perniciously "imposing morality" on students?

http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2016/04/13/law-schools-are-indoctrinating-students-with-a-social-justice-morality-says-professor/
posted by Mallenroh at 12:50 PM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think it's fair to say that religious organizations tend toward a degree of conservativism, but I don't know of any religion that has actually frozen itself back in the era of its founders. I mean, I was raised with a religion founded during the bronze age, and the current incarnations would have been unrecognizable to the ancient Israelites.

Religions tend to pretend to be stable but in practice are tremendously elastic. They tend to have a lot of contemporary elements, a chunk of stuff that is less than a hundred years old but they pretend they have been doing forever, and maybe a handful of things they have actually been doing forever.

A Mormon college punishing women for reporting rape? That doesn't seem especially old or particularly Mormon. It seems woefully contemporary.
posted by maxsparber at 12:52 PM on April 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


One could make a reasonable argument that Mormonism didn't really take off in terms of doctrinal development until the Nauvoo period, and that some of its most significant theological aspects developed in the 1840s, in some cases as opposition to Brigham Young's religious teachings that the church has openly rejected now for quite some time. So I'd maybe let the 1840s thing slide if it was part of a nuanced, thoughtful comment.

But no, Mormonism today is not operating on 1840s "factory settings," and modern Mormonism has been almost indistinguishable from 1840s Mormonism for probably close to 100 years.

If anyone's interested in actually learning about the development of modern Mormonism, as opposed to taking the bullet points of 1830s and 1840s Mormonism and then jumping to guesses as to how they apply to the church today, I would highly recommend David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by Greg Prince, which is the only book related to Mormonism that I'd characterize as an actual page-turner.
posted by The World Famous at 12:55 PM on April 14, 2016 [13 favorites]


but I don't know of any religion that has actually frozen itself back in the era of its founders.

I think it could be argued that there are some sects of Judaism that have attempted to freeze things from the moment of their founding. Moses Sofer famously declared that "new is forbidden by the Torah". Now, the Jewish practice at the time would have been unrecognizable to the founders of the religion, but there was an effort by Sofer to resist the encroachment of Reform Judaism by preventing any future change from the specific time when he was alive.

Similarly, various ultra-orthodox groups have attempted to adopt certain norms and laws at the time of their founding, and then tried to adhere to these customs via an ongoing hereditary dynasty. Most obviously visually, it's why Jews in Israel are in a desert in the summer dressed like they are in Eastern Europe in the winter.

Judaism is a diverse enough religious group that it can provide good insight in both a positive and negative sense about how religious groups can adapt themselves to modernity. Like Mormonism, you can find Jewish sects that have responded poorly to the problems of sexual assault and sexism, but you can also see groups that are showing how those issues can be properly confronted and overcome (to varying levels of success).
posted by andoatnp at 1:15 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Still baffled by the fact that universities get to have jurisdiction over crimes. Why would anyone think this is a good idea, much less legal?
posted by thecjm at 1:26 PM on April 14, 2016 [13 favorites]


BYU administration and policy generally represents a much more rigidly orthodox subset of Mormonism than the institutional church itself - a fact that is fairly openly acknowledged by church leadership and that has been the case since Wilkinson was the university's president from 1951 through 1971, where he generally disregarded church leadership's opinions and instead created an ultra-orthodox Mormonism enforced by university rules, the "Honor Code," etc. There are certainly some church leaders who share the views of BYU Mormonism (the Q15 are the trustees, after all), but BYU's rules and approach to Mormonism are quite simply not those of the church itself. And the notion that the more strict approach is necessarily the more pure or righteous one is, as in other religions, a notion advanced by those who subscribe to those views, and not by others. (For an even more extreme version of institutionalized ultra-orthodox Mormonism, see BYU-Idaho.)

BYU's apparent refusal to give Honor Code amnesty to sexual assault and rape victims is a symptom of this ultra-orthodox Mormonism, which embraces ideas like the philosophy that 100% enforcement of draconian "morality" rules is the ideal, such that the real problem is not that rape victims are disciplined for infractions incident to the crime committed against them, but that the school is unable to rule with a fist of sufficient iron to punish any and all such infractions, regardless of their circumstances.

Interestingly, there's a privately-owned and run Mormon university that is not formally affiliated with the school - Southern Virginia University - that has an express, written amnesty policy shielding sexual assault victims from school discipline for the actions of the victim.
posted by The World Famous at 1:28 PM on April 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


Still baffled by the fact that universities get to have jurisdiction over crimes. Why would anyone think this is a good idea, much less legal?

They don't "get to." They are required to under Title IX. My impression is that those who pushed for imposition of that statute's requirements were willing to sacrifice the possibility of criminal prosecution as long as they could force someone to investigate and make it more likely that rapists would get some sort of punishment. In other words, the idea seems to be that it's OK if a rapist can't be effectively prosecuted (due to botched investigations, ruined evidence chains of custody, etc.) just as long as they get kicked out of college.
posted by The World Famous at 1:33 PM on April 14, 2016


I think it could be argued that there are some sects of Judaism that have attempted to freeze things from the moment of their founding.

Many do. But "attempted" is not the same thing as "accomplished." The Orthodox movement, it should be noted, developed at pretty much exactly the same time as the Reform Movement, in opposition to it, and it's idea of "new" was really "anything different than what was happened at that moment."

Obviously, modern Orthodoxy is as dissimilar from Schreiber's version as, well, Orthodoxy was dissimilar from the Misnaggedim the preceded them, which developed in reaction to Hasidism, which was different from the obsessive Talmudists that preceded them, all pretending they were continuing unbroken traditions from the time of the patriarchs.
posted by maxsparber at 1:35 PM on April 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


I mean, some Hasids basically dress in historical reenactment costumes, but my great-grandfather Wolf Kitzis would not have recognized their version of hasidism, despite having cofounded the movement.
posted by maxsparber at 1:36 PM on April 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


Still baffled by the fact that universities get to have jurisdiction over crimes. Why would anyone think this is a good idea, much less legal?

Universities don't, really. Universities often have public safety or police departments which might have the power to arrest, but any criminal prosecution happens in the appropriate city or state jurisdiction (I'm excluding the military academies from this, which are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice), not as part of the University process. If you're arrested by campus police for drunk driving, you're not prosecuted by the University and jailed in the basement of the Engineering Building, or something. You're turned over to the local authorities.

You might be thinking of the requirements of Title IX, the federal law that requires gender equity in education. Universities are required to investigate sexual assaults that occur at their schools because schools receiving federal funding are obligated to provide equal access to education. The Department of Education has been saying for a while that because so many women are sexually assaulted while in college, schools need to do something about it to ensure this equal access.

But these investigations are not criminal investigations. They are in addition to any criminal investigation (that may or may not occur). They're administrative proceedings to ensure that reports of sexual assaults are taken seriously and that schools remediate the impacts of them to the extent possible. If a university, in an investigation required by Title IX, finds that a student has sexually assaulted another, that student might be expelled, but they won't be jailed or have a criminal record as a result of the university's finding.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:41 PM on April 14, 2016 [15 favorites]


Yes, please, please for the love of God can we do everything we can to make clear that universities do not have any criminal jurisdiction over their students, and that university investigations do not in any way foreclose the option a victim has to go to the police? Just like police investigations do not foreclose the possibility of disciplinary action by a university?
posted by skewed at 1:48 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


To focus on the article, I can clearly see the tension that creates such a terrible problem at religious universities with conduct rules firmly grounded in notions of morality. One of the realities of student on student sexual assault complaints is that they frequently involve alcohol and drug use, or other things not permitted by universities (such as, I don't know, being in a dorm designated for the opposite sex at a certain time, or having premarital sex, maybe).

Schools that aren't bounded by rules entrenched in morality aren't as affected by this--many institutions have moved or are moving toward amnesty rules for low level violations of student conduct rules (namely underage drinking). This is a lot messier for those institutions that view rules like this as a matter of the religious fabric their institution is founded upon.

The rational choice is to prioritize: it is more important to prevent sexual assaults and hold assaulters accountable than it is to prevent (for example) underage drinking, fraternizing with the opposite sex, or whatever; it is just hard to be rational when you attach some sort of religious significance to the rule you're trying to enforce.

I'm not, though, sympathetic, really, towards these institutions. This to me is not very different than the line of argument used to defend discrimination against gay or trans people on religious freedom grounds. But I absolutely understand how this problem is occurring at religious institutions.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:09 PM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not a jurisdictional question but why would an off campus assault be reported to the university? Is this required if an active student is attacked no matter where? This BYU honor code thing seems to be a lose/lose for the student. Either you lie about what you were doing prior to the assault (which could have potentially disastrous consequences should there ever be a criminal trial) or don't report. Good job BYU, you seemed to have covered all the shitty bases in your quest to CYA.
posted by MikeMc at 4:52 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not a jurisdictional question but why would an off campus assault be reported to the university? Is this required if an active student is attacked no matter where?

No student is required to report their assault to the University, but the reasons that it's desirable is because other members of the University community probably don't want to be going to school with someone who has sexually assaulted someone. The "jurisdictional" concept in these cases is probably best thought of as "how close is the nexus to the university?" When an assault occurs on campus, it's obviously very strong. When it occurs off campus, it's not as clear, but it is presumably very strong if they're both students. You could imagine, I'm sure, hypotheticals to make this question more difficult, but the overriding concept is "how great is the university's stake in knowing about this incident?" From my point of view, it doesn't make that much of a difference whether it occurs at, say, a dorm on campus or a frat house or apartment or whatever off campus. The university community is substantially impacted in each of those cases.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:11 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


...and that university investigations do not in any way foreclose the option a victim has to go to the police

Victims of sexual assault at Brandon University (Manitoba, Canada) are required to sign a behavioural contract that forces them to say nothing about the assault except to counsellors.

The contract, which Brandon University confirms is authentic, spells out that the signer cannot have contact with the other person involved in an incident and that they are not to discuss what happened with anyone else other than a counsellor. [copy of contract]
posted by rh at 10:39 PM on April 14, 2016


What continues to baffle me about situations like this is, why would anyone go to the university officials before just going to the police? A crime is a crime, and even when I was in college... I mean, when my beloved and decades-later still much-missed Centurion Clic bicycle was stolen, it wasn't the school I called. I called the city cops. Surely a sexual assault would be felt much more keenly than a missing bike -- so why aren't they the first number dialed?
posted by hippybear at 1:12 AM on April 15, 2016


I can't say for sure hippybear, except to offer that people who have experienced trauma don't often act in the ways that seem rational to those who haven't experienced that trauma, so that's one reason. Another might be because the idea of a criminal trial and everything it ensues seems far more hopeless and intimidating than telling the school (which I'm not sure I'd say is correct really but can understand why someone might think so). Part of the message of a lot of the education being done in this area right now is to consider the effects of trauma on people who have been assaulted and, consequently, abandon many of our preconceptions about what seems reasonable for how a person in that situation should behave.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:44 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I live three blocks away from BYU. If I go anywhere without my boyfriend or my dog I am frequently approached by a man and told that I am breaking honor code or that my outfit is distracting. I am not LDS. I do not go to BYU. I can hardly go to a swimming pool in a one piece, let alone a bikini, because I might "disrupt" some young man's fun time.

The women I know who have been either sexually assualted or raped? They can't tell anyone because they are the one who will get kicked out of school, not the rapist. This is a place where huffing glue or keyboard duster is more permitted then alcohol. And hippybear, they typically tell their Bishop first to ask for advice, and he tells the school.

Thank you for compiling this post. I'll be sharing it with my friends around here.
posted by Marinara at 8:13 AM on April 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


Also, very few people take sexual assualt seriously here. There's a place jokingly nicknamed "Rape Hill" because it's where all the co-eds go to make out. "She's probably got raped again last night" is probably the least offensive statement about rape that I've heard and it gets progressively worse. A few girls I see at the dog park started Honey to bring more awareness to the issue. It's a huge problem.
posted by Marinara at 8:24 AM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


What continues to baffle me about situations like this is, why would anyone go to the university officials before just going to the police?

Because women who go to the police get treated like garbage. A university might be seen as slightly more sympathetic.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:48 AM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Often, survivors don't report their assaults to their university intentionally. At my school, all employees, with the exception of those who work for the victim advocate office or the counseling center, are required to report a sexual assault to the university's Title IX administrator. So, a survivor could disclose her assault to a trusted teacher, coach, advisor, or RA and wind up caught up in the university disciplinary process without ever starting any kind of formal complaint procedure. It creates a climate in which telling ANYONE of your assault is dicey: what happens next is completely out of your hands.
posted by batbat at 10:09 AM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


The police question again. We've discussed this before.

A couple things to remember:
1) Most non-campus rapes aren't even reported to the police. There's no reason to expect campus rapes to be reported to police at higher rates than non-campus rapes. Not to mention that there's a good chance the cops will think you're lying anyways.

2) If you only go to the police, even if they do believe you and are willing to prosecute, without action by the university administration, the victim may still have to live in the same dorm, go to the same classes, etc. as her/his rapist.
posted by LizBoBiz at 11:01 AM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


There's a place jokingly nicknamed "Rape Hill" because it's where all the co-eds go to make out.

See, when I was a student at BYU, the hill with the shadowy, long path up to the Maeser Building was referred to as "Rape Hill" because over the years it had been the scene of countless sexual assaults and rapes. But maybe that's a different hill?
posted by The World Famous at 11:08 AM on April 15, 2016


Yeah, same place. Right near Brick Oven Pizza? That makes it feel so much worse.
posted by Marinara at 11:22 AM on April 15, 2016


As a one time BYU student and long time Utah resident I know multiple women who were sexually assaulted while at BYU but never reported the incident because they knew part of their behavior broke the honor code and they would not only lose admission to BYU but any on campus employment and they BYU approved housing. This has been happening for decades.

The perpetrators know they are empowered by the strict rules and sexually repressive culture. If they go to their Bishop for counseling he reports it to BYU, if they go to a LDS social worker it's reported to BYU, if they report it to the police it's reported to BYU. The only safe space these victims have is the health care system because of HIPAA laws.

I'm glad this is finally getting the attention it deserves.
posted by ShakeyJake at 8:30 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


mormons, either through their university or not, have a long tradition of forcing rape victims to repent for the circumstances of their rape. it continues to be heartbreaking that 20 years after i reported my molestation to my bishop, 40 years after my aunts reported their molestations to their bishop, this is still the lay of the land.
posted by nadawi at 6:54 AM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


oh, and my abuser? not kicked out of the church until he had a baby out of wedlock, years after i reported. the evidence of consensual sin was worse than the accusation of prolonged rape.
posted by nadawi at 6:56 AM on April 30, 2016


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