BYU decides investigating sexual assault victims for “honor code violations” isn’t the best idea

Victim-blaming is all too prevalent when it comes to how society and law enforcement deal with sexual assault. Those who report their experiences are often asked what they were wearing, how much they’d had to drink, how they were behaving, the “signals” they were sending, and all sorts of other questions irrelevant to the fact that someone actively made the choice to violate them and should be held responsible. For years, Brigham Young University, by assessing victims’ “honor code violations,” took victim-blaming to the next level, at least until it announced Wednesday it would no longer be administering these slut-shaming, puritanical investigations into victims’ behaviors.

Earlier this year, numerous students alleging they had been sexually assaulted came forward and shared their experiences with how the Mormon university handled their reports: by speculating into the alleged female victims’ “honor code violations,” including drinking and premarital sex, as if these acts are somehow more dishonorable than, oh, I don’t know, committing sexual assault. Madi Barney and Madeline MacDonald, two BYU students who reported sexual assault, told Jezebel the university’s Honor Code Office heavily scrutinized their police reports searching for violations.

“BYU likes to look at your rape and chop it up into little pieces and choose the parts that they can punish you for,” Barney told Jezebel. Barney wasn’t able to register for classes while the Honor Code Office evaluated her behavior after she reported her assault. So, it wasn’t even just victim-blaming; it was also victim-punishing.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights began investigating Barney’s claims earlier this year, making BYU one of 200 colleges across the nation being investigated for Title IX violations, and notified BYU of this in August.

BYU responded to these allegations in May by forming a panel to evaluate their Honor Code Office and its conflicts with their Title IX Office. On Wednesday, the panel released its recommendations, which include “amnesty” for assault victims who violated honor code, among other points including:

  • Create a new, full-time Title IX coordinator position to replace the existing part-time Title IX coordinator position.
  • Create a victim advocate or confidential adviser position.
  • Create a new, physical space to house the Title IX Office in a location separate from the Honor Code Office.
  • Ensure that, unless the health or safety of others is at risk, the Title IX Office does not share information with the Honor Code Office about the complainant without the complainant’s consent.

If the university winds up instating these recommendations, it will simply be meeting the standards of most universities across the nation.