By Sam Frazier
Last week, my school, Brigham Young University, held its first ever “Rape Awareness” conference on campus. Having grown up in Utah, I’ve come to know rape as a sort of taboo subject — everyone knows it happens, but no one ever talks about it. So naturally, I was thrilled that the strange societal veil of secrecy shrouding the subject was finally being lifted at BYU.
And yes, the veil was certainly lifted — although yanked might be the more appropriate word.
At the conference, a representative of BYU’s administration spoke to the crowd about the role of the Honor Code Office in the reporting of sexual assault. The representative said that the BYU police department reviews the report and then may choose to forward the report to the Honor Code Office, depending on the circumstances of the assault itself. Witnesses say that the BYU representative made it clear that the Honor Code remains a primary rule of conduct at the university, and “we do not apologize for that.”
BYU’s Honor Code prohibits drinking, drugs, homosexual behavior, swearing, and sexual misconduct, among other things. Those who violate the Honor Code, if discovered, are subject to suspension or expulsion. This means that if a victim was found to have been in violation of any part of the Honor Code after reporting a rape, they would be subject to university punishment — thus tying their academic future to the circumstances of their rape.
By perpetuating this policy, BYU forces victims of assault to deal with potential academic consequences along with the psychological trauma of the rape itself. Were you in a boy’s room after hours at the time of the rape? Trouble. Did someone force himself or herself on you while you were drunk? Trouble. Doing anything that could possibly be in violation of the Honor Code at the time? Better not to report at all if you want to graduate!
That’s the message that BYU is sending.
Now, I understand that BYU students all agreed to sign the Honor Code, and I’m not saying that it should be discredited as a whole. But prosecuting victims of assault in the name of the Honor Code is not an “honorable” practice; it’s a practice that empowers rapists and silences victims. Victim silencing isn’t a new concept — just last year, a student at the University of North Carolina was faced with threatened with expulsion for speaking out and supposedly “intimidating” her rapist — but it’s a concept we as a society should aim to abolish.
Many have proposed that victims of sexual assault at BYU be granted clemency in regards to potential Honor Code violations in order to encourage victims to report sexual assault. A petition posted online asking for an such an exception has already amassed 14,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. The petition states that “without an immunity clause, BYU will continue to be a hostile environment for rape victims, and that emboldens offenders and shames victims.”
And really, shouldn’t a victim receiving the help that they need take priority over university punishment? Shouldn’t ensuring that one less rapist walks free be more important than administering justice to those who break the Honor Code?
I certainly think so.
And I hope that BYU agrees.