Yesterday, leaders of the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints) finally responded to the sexual assault and rape allegations that have haunted its flagship university, Brigham Young, for the past month. In a statement, LDS leaders wrote that the Church has, “no tolerance for sexual assault at BYU or in the Church.” The statement continued:
Assault of any kind is a serious criminal offense, and we support its reporting, investigation and prosecution to the full extent of the law. Victims of assault or recipients of unwelcome sexual attention should be treated with sensitivity, compassion and respect and should feel that those to whom they disclose the assault are committed to helping them deal with the trauma they have experienced.
The statement is in response to allegations made by BYU students that rape and assault victims are unfairly targeted by Honor Code investigations after the fact. Two BYU students told Jezebel that they had been subjected to Honor Code investigations and Honor Code charge for circumstances related to their rape. The university, one student told Jezebel, “is emboldening my rapist.”
LDS leaders said:
In instances where there may have been conflict between meeting Honor Code and Title IX priorities, BYU is taking significant steps, including forming an advisory council to explore these circumstances and make recommendations for change, as needed.
The statement, however, made no attempt to acknowledge the damaging relationship between rape and sexual assault allegations and the university’s Honor Code. Rather, leaders described the women’s stories as unreflective of BYU and the Mormon Church:
Media have published deeply personal stories of victims of sexual assault who feel they have been treated poorly when reporting their assault. They are painful to read, but we do not believe they represent the ideals BYU or Church leaders follow when responding to victims.
The statement was included with a rather bizarre blog post on the LDS’s Newsroom Blog, the Church’s source for the media. In the post, the Church’s Department of Public Affairs accuses the Salt Lake Tribune, who has skillfully covered the intricacies of the story, of “gotcha journalism”:
On Thursday of this week (May 19), after becoming aware that the Tribune was soon going to publish a further report with interviews of BYU students who had been assaulted, a Church spokesman again contacted Tribune editors and received a commitment that the Church would be given ample opportunity to participate in future stories that involved the Church. Less than two hours later, the newspaper published the story, again without giving the Church an opportunity to respond.
This is analogous to what is known in the trade as “gotcha journalism” — a practice unworthy of any serious newspaper seeking for balance in its reporting.
The statement also referenced BYU’s launch of a new website which seeks feedback from “campus and community on matters related to sexual assault.” KSL in Salt Lake City reports that BYU also announced that it had formed a four-person committee, the Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault, which has been studying the University’s handling of rape and sexual assault reports.
In a letter to the BYU community, council chair Jan Scharman wrote, “I assure you that this advisory council will study every part of the sexual assault reporting process at BYU.”
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