Sexual Assault Reporting at BYU Presents Some Difficulties

These Unique Challenges Can Silence Some Mormon Sexual Assault Victims

Brigham Young University
Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, USA. George Frey / Contributor / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Sexual assault is a tragedy, wherever and whenever it occurs. If the victim or the perpetrator is a student at one of the LDS Church's higher education schools, there are additional challenges.

The purpose of this article is to explain the unique context at Church schools that can complicate how these problems are handled. The context is very different from other schools; whether public or private institutions, religious or non-sectarian.

This explanation applies to all Church schools which include the following:

Church Schools Are All Headed by Top Religious Leaders

Unlike other religious schools, these schools are not just affiliated with Mormons. These schools are extensions of the Church itself.

The trustees are all top church leaders. They lead the schools by virtue of their church position. This would be somewhat similar to the Pope and the Cardinals presiding over a Catholic school.

Church leaders establish policies that are consistent with LDS beliefs and behaviors. There is no distinction in Church schools. School standards are church standards.

Church Schools Are All Heavily Subsidized by Tithing Funds

Mormons are commanded to pay tithing. Some of these sacred tithing funds are used to finance Church education. This money must be used very carefully. This is sacred money.

Sacred money is only used for things that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ would approve of.

Those who control these funds on earth are all heavily conscious of their unique responsibility.

Honor Codes Mirror Mormon Beliefs

The Honor Code at Church schools is taken seriously, much more seriously than what most outsiders would guess.

The provisions of the Honor Code reflect LDS beliefs and behaviors all Mormons embrace.

Violating some of them can trigger Church discipline and even result in excommunication.

If you are a student when you violate them, you can be kicked out of school, in addition to any Church discipline that may occur.

Every person who attends or works at a Church school signs the Honor Code and agrees to live by it. They agree to accept the consequences if they violate it, whatever those consequences may be.

So, contrary to how these violations are reported in the secular media, individuals are disciplined for not abiding by the standards they agreed to keep.

Honor Code Handled Differently at LDS Schools Than at Other Schools

Since Church schools are extensions of the Church itself, Honor Code violations reflect this.

Consequences for violators often appear harsh and extreme to outsiders, because other schools would not handle it in the manner that LDS schools do.

All students, faculty and staff know and agree to these standards. If they did not, they would not be attending, or be employed, at a Church school.

Off Campus Housing is Policed by the School

If you attend a Church school, you must live in campus housing or approved off campus housing, unless you are living at home with your parents.

Exceptions to these rules must be approved on an individual basis.

Private entities that provide housing to students must abide by the school's rules and enforce them. These requirements can include how a building is designed and what behavior can be allowed in the housing complex.

How This Affects Students Who Suffer Sexual Assault

Victims of sexual assault must reveal circumstances surrounding the assault. Sometimes this brings to light violations of the Honor Code, such as illegal drug use or drinking alcohol.

Victims know that reporting the assault will result in Church and school authorities learning about any Honor Code violations by the victim. Sometimes victims remain quiet for this reason.

Victims know they can be forced to leave the school. This is a very real dilemma. Some assert that perpetrators utilize this dilemma to their own advantage in victimizing individuals.

Amnesty is Not the Answer, At Church Schools At Least

Many schools offer amnesty for victims of sexual assault. This enables victims to report the crime against them, without triggering school discipline for any rules or honor code violations committed by the victim.

Apparently, Southern Virginia University, a private school operated on LDS standards, does grant amnesty to victims. However, this is not possible for Church schools.

Sin is sin. Heavenly Father cannot look upon sin with any allowance. Any behavior that triggers Church discipline can affect a victim's school standing as well.

Church schools do not want to victimize victims of sexual assault. However, larger issues are at stake here. Anyone not abiding by the code of conduct they agreed to is subject to discipline. This holds true even for victims of sexual assault.

Despite this reality, Church schools should exercise Christlike behaviors in how all of these issues are handled.

Legal Issues Surrounding Title IX

Some of the controversy swirling around this issue has to do with rights under Title IX. Church schools must operate under the laws that exist.

Information sharing is an administrative, as well as a policy and procedural, question. Sexual assault is a crime. When a student is a victim or perpetrator, it necessarily involves both secular and religious authorities.

These procedures should not further victimize a victim of heinous crime. All have a responsibility in carefully and righteously performing their duties.

Attending a Church School is a Privilege, Not a Right

Church leaders have warned members that attending a Church school is a privilege, not a right. Any abuse of this privilege can result in a person's being denied the opportunities that Church schools provide.

Church leaders have also warned against any person on Church school campuses assuming a spirit of demanding entitlement.