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PROVO — A rape awareness meeting on the campus of Brigham Young University is causing controversy over enforcement of the school’s honor code.
The discussion comes after comments from the coordinator of BYU’s Title IX office. The question centers around two offices at BYU: the Honor Code Office and the Title IX office, which enforces federal laws protecting students from discrimination based on gender.
The organizers of the rape awareness meeting said they don’t have any audio or video recording of exactly what was said, but many have come forward recalling statements made by the director of the Title IX office.
Sophomore Briana Garrido helped organize the rape awareness meeting on the campus. During the question and answer segment she said the coordinator of BYU’s Title IX office, who was in the audience, made comments that upset victims of sexual assault.
“She basically said that 'We do not apologize for having an honor code and unfortunately it has a chilling effect on those who want to come forward. It can have a chilling effect on people who have been assaulted and want to report their cases if they were in violation of the honor code at the time,'” Garrido said.
Garrido said she knows of a case where a victim who reported sexual assault was also contacted by the Honor Code Office.
“She received a phone call, according to her, where the question was, not how are you doing, how can we help, but we’ve heard that you’ve broken the honor code and we need to talk with you. And that’s very difficult for a survivor of sexual assault,” Garrido said.
A spokesperson from BYU responded with this statement: “A Title IX investigation at BYU is independent and separate of the honor code process. Furthermore, the victim of a sexual assault is not going to be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault.”
“It’s not a situation that’s unique to BYU,” said Alana Kindness, executive director for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “It’s not even unique to college campuses. It’s something that we’ve been dealing with for decades with local law enforcement.”
The coalition said offenders can take advantage of situations with a code of conduct, like at BYU, where victims may be reluctant to report an assault.
"A perpetrator knows that if he or she gets the victim to participate in some kind of behavior that would get them in trouble that they would be less likely to report," Garrido said.
“It’s an opportunity to recognize that there might be some unintended consequences of a policy that originally was designed to help support students,” Kindness said.
As to how the Honor Code Office learns of violations that may have occurred leading up to a situation of sexual assault: the organizer of the event said she knows of a case where the perpetrator’s friends sent court documents detailing the assault to the Honor Code Office.
In a subsequent statement from BYU, a spokesperson said the university takes reports of sexual assault “extremely seriously” and that the first priority is the welfare and safety of the student.
Here is the full statement from BYU:
The victim of a sexual assault will never be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault. A report of sexual assault would be referred to the BYU Title IX Office--not to the Honor Code Office. A Title IX investigation at BYU is separate from the Honor Code process. The purpose of the Title IX investigation is to investigate the sexual assault not other Honor Code violations. Again, the victim of a sexual assault is not going to be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault. When a student reports a sexual assault, they are referred to the Title IX Office—not to the Honor Code Office. The student then has the option to meet with a coordinator, is provided written information about their rights and options and is offered resources and services based on their unique situation. BYU takes these reports extremely seriously, with our first priority being the welfare and safety of the student. Our goal in every situation is to give students the support that they need and safeguard their educational environment. Title IX investigations are conducted by qualified individuals who are specifically trained on the issues related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, as well as how to conduct an investigation and hearing process that protects the safety of victims.