Earlier this week, Brigham Young University announced that the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is investigating the university for how it handles sexual assault complaints.
The investigation is the result of complaints lodged by numerous female undergraduates, each of whom alleged that the Mormon university silenced rape and assault victims by sharing Title IX complaints with the school’s Honor Code Office. In April, two undergraduates, Madi Barney and Madeline MacDonald, told Jezebel that they had been investigated by BYU’s Honor Code office after reporting their assaults. Under BYU’s Honor Code, everything from drinking, drugs, and premarital sexual contact are punishable offenses.
Barney’s case was particularly egregious. The 19-year-old undergraduate did not report her off-campus rape to the university, rather BYU used her police report to open an Honor Code investigation. “All of [BYU’s] Honor Code allegations came directly from my police report,” Barney told Jezebel earlier this year. After refusing to participate in the Honor Code’s investigation, Barney was barred from registering for classes and later filed a federal Title IX complaint against the university.
In late April, BYU announced that it would review its own procedures and, in mid-May, launched a website where the university community could share its opinions. In a press release from Monday, BYU said:
The BYU Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault has been working throughout the summer on this study. The council has been working with many people inside and outside the university to identify changes that will help BYU move toward the elimination of sexual assault on campus and determine how to better handle the reporting process for victims of sexual assault as sensitively and compassionately as possible.
BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins told the Deseret News that the university is considering adding an “amnesty” rule. The paper reports that an amnesty clause could, “encourage students to report sexual misconduct by pledging that a school will not punish victims or witnesses who step forward for their own alcohol or drug use or other conduct violations.”
Federal Title IX reviews are notoriously long and an immediate outcome or change of policy is unlikely. BYU joins the list of over 200 colleges currently undergoing a Title IX investigation.