Students who report being sexually assaulted at Brigham Young University will no longer face the possibility of punishment for honor code violations, such as drinking or extramarital sex.
The nation’s preeminent Mormon university announced the new amnesty policy on Wednesday, acceding to a demand from many activists who saw peril for the victims of sexual assault at the conservative religious institution in Utah.
“Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our students. This is particularly true for those who have been the victims of sexual assault,” the university’s president Kevin J. Worthen wrote in a letter to students and staff on Wednesday. “They have been through a devastating experience, and they are looking for our help and support.”
BYU student Madi Barney drew attention to the university’s handling of sexual assault last year, when she wrote in a petition that when she reported to police that she had been raped, the school investigated her for breaking the honor code. More than 117,000 people signed her petition, and other students reported that they too had been afraid to report sexual assaults because they might themselves be penalized because they were drinking at the time, or they had previously consented to extramarital sex, both of which are against the rules at BYU.
The university formed a committee in the spring to make recommendations on its sexual assault policies, and on Wednesday, Worthen announced that he was accepting the committee’s ideas, including the amnesty policy.
The policy will protect students who report being assaulted, as well as witnesses who report assaults, the advisory council’s chair Janet S. Scharman said in a Q&A on the university website Wednesday.
Scharman, who is the vice president for student life, said the goal of the amnesty policy is to persuade more students to report sexual assaults. “Sexual assault is underreported. We cannot offer help and support to those traumatized by such a crime if we are not aware that such a crime has occurred,” she said.
Worthen also announced Wednesday that the school will locate its Title IX Office, which handles sexual assault complaints, in a new space separate from the Honor Code Office, and will employ a full-time Title IX coordinator instead of the current part-time officer, and a new victim advocate. The Title IX Office will not be allowed to share information with the Honor Code Office unless the victim agrees to it.