Imagine you are a college student at Brigham Young University, you are sexually assaulted on campus, you do the right thing and report the assault to the college, expecting the college to investigate the sexual assault. Instead, you find yourself the subject of an “Honor Code investigation” as the college investigates whether you violated school policies banning drinking and premarital sex.
That was the policy at Brigham Young, the premier Mormon Church institute of higher education, up until last week. BYU finally decided to drop its policy of conducting Honor Code investigations of students who make sexual assault claims after withering criticism from sexual abuse advocates who rightly claimed that the practice treated victims as criminals. The inquiry began in May after female students and alumni spoke out against the school’s investigation policy.
“By having an amnesty clause, we hopefully will let them know that they should not hold any self-blame, that we are here to provide help to them,” said Julie Valentine, a nursing professor who was on the council issuing the recommendations. “It also helps educate the whole community and the campus that we can’t have victim blaming, that we need to reach out and offer support.”
Brigham Young University has been the subject of media scrutiny and investigation for its handling of sexual assault on its campus and the Honor Code policy was a deterrent for those who were assaulted and feared coming forward to authorities.
The university report did not address the role of the Mormon bishops who are the ultimate arbiter in determining whether students are in good standing with the faith and therefore the university. While the Mormon Church has issued directives concerning sexual abuse, there is no directive stating that church leaders have a duty and obligation to call law enforcement authorities when they receive or suspect child sexual abuse.
Until the church directs its leadership to proactively cooperate and notify the police, children and young adults involved in Mormon programs, including BYU students, remain in danger of sexual abuse and assault. Churches can’t and won’t police themselves. Law enforcement authorities must be allowed to investigate and prosecute allegations of sex crimes. Otherwise, the words of religious leaders are empty.