University Rape Code ‘Rapes’ Victims Twice: Brigham Young University’s ‘honor code’ punishes rape victims by raping them of their right to fair hearing followed by banishment

Photo: George Frey/GEORGE FREY
Madi Barney was told she could not register for future classes at Brigham Young University after she reported her rape.

Mormon university shames rape victims – ‘You’re a sinner’
“The way that BYU has treated me has been so callous that it’s been almost as bad as the rape itself”

– Madi Barney, Bringham Young rape victim

‘…the honor code is designed “to promote a nice environment for LDS students”.
“A lot of students feel very positively toward it,”  “But if the honor code is acting as a shield to protect and conceal sexual violence, that’s not working. There is nothing honorable about protecting sex offenders.”’

Madi Barney sat sobbing in the Provo, Utah, police department. It had been four days since the Brigham Young University sophomore had been raped in her off-campus apartment. She was scared – terrified – that the officials at her strict, Mormon university would find out and punish her.
Nonsense, the officers told her, they’ll never know, and they won’t hurt you. But a month or so later, there she was with her attorney in Brigham Young University’s Title IX office – a place where rape victims are supposed to get help – and offered an ultimatum by a university official.
Rape victim could be punished under Brigham Young University’s ‘honor code’Barney was told the school “had received a police report in which ‘A) it looks like you’ve been raped and B) it also looks like you may have violated the honor code’”, she recounted, and that “I was going to be forwarded to the honor code office unless I let them investigate me. I said absolutely not.”
The university has told Barney that she cannot register for future classes. She is no longer welcome at the institution her father attended before her, along with aunts and uncles and two cousins, a university that devout families consider the Harvard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Attending the graceful campus at the foot of the snow-capped Wasatch Range is an aspiration for many young Mormons, and being thrown out is a black mark that can follow the devout for life, estrange them from their families, derail their education and ultimately their careers.
It can bring with it “horrible guilt and shame and dishonor”, said sociologist Ryan Cragun, who specializes in Mormonism at the University of Tampa. “If it’s tied to the honor code, not only is it tied to academic failure, but you’re a sinner. This could cause ramifications for your eternal salvation.”

2566
Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP
Students at Brigham Young University stand in solidarity with rape victims at a campus demonstration.

So what did the 20 year old do? She fought back. And in the process, she helped galvanize many other rape survivors to come forward with their own stories of “re-victimization” at the hands of BYU officials in what has evolved into a grassroots effort to change one of the university’s most stringent sets of policies – the honor code.
The public outrage that followed has shone a spotlight on the school at a time when victim-blaming has appeared in headlines elsewhere in the country. This week, a court in Oklahoma declared that state law did not criminalize oral sex with a victim who was incapacitated by alcohol. And on 15 April, at a campaign event in New York, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich advised a college student concerned about rape: “don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol”.
Going public exposed Barney to yet another wave of abuse, this time via newspaper comment sections, social media posts and threatening emails – a sign of the tough job ahead for BYU students and alumnae as they push against a culture that both nurtures and punishes.
“Are we to understand that this young lady wants her transgressions overlooked while holding others accountable for theirs?” wrote one online skeptic. “In the end, be moral and don’t break the rules and you’ll be better off”, scolded another. Asked a third, “Why do people think that a sexual assault means ‘everything I did is irrelevant and I am in no way responsible?’

3342
Photo: George Frey/GEORGE FREY

Madi Barney was told she could not register for future classes at Brigham Young University after she reported her rape.

Barney told her story publicly for the first time on 7 April at a rape awareness conference at BYU. The details are chilling.
The suspect, 39-year-old Nasiru Seidu, lied to her about about his age and name. He told her he was single. According to police documents, he raped her while she cried out and screamed, “no”. The police confirmed the details during a staged phone call between Barney and Seidu after she filed the report.
Seidu, who was arrested after the September rape, is free on bail. His wife attends court hearings by his side. Barney has protective orders requiring that he stay away.
A Utah County sheriff’s deputy, a friend of Seidu, passed a copy of the police report to the BYU honor code office. The document, Barney said, has pages of details about the rape, a statement from the nurse who examined her, “medical records of trauma to my body after a rape”.
The way that BYU has treated me has been so callous that it’s been almost as bad as the rape itself
School officials, she said, used that report to launch their investigation into whether she had violated the honor code, which prohibits students from inviting members of the opposite sex into their rooms. They must be “chaste,” dress modestly, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and attend church services.
At the advice of her attorney, she refused to take part in the investigation. She has been banned from ever registering for classes at BYU again. After Seidu’s trial, she plans to transfer to another university.
BYU officials, she said, told her “they couldn’t give me the services that they would give a rape victim because they couldn’t prove that I was raped. I filed a Title IX complaint against them, like, a week ago.”
What she wants people to understand, she said, is that “I’m not attacking BYU … I’m not saying throw out the whole honor code. You just need to add one small clause, which is common sense.”
That clause, she said, would grant sexual assault victims immunity from honor code investigations so that, if they wanted to, they could report the crimes against them without fearing retribution.
“If I hadn’t reported my rape,” she said, “none of this would be happening to me. The very thing I was supposed to do, the right thing, led me to getting kicked out of school. The way that BYU has treated me has been so callous that it’s been almost as bad as the rape itself.”

3600
Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP
An online petition urging immunity for rape survivors has received 110,000 signatures

After Barney spoke at the rape awareness conference, many other women approached her to say they’d gone through the same thing.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins would not respond to questions about the specifics of Barney’s case. But she did say that the university would “never illegally obtain a police report” and has launched a study about the school’s policies.
The universtity, she said in an email, “cares deeply about the safety and well-being of our students. When a student reports a sexual assault our primary focus is on the safety and well-being of the victim. A Title IX investigation is never conducted to harass or re-traumatize a victim.”
That said, “sometimes in the course of an investigation”’ she continued, “facts come to light that a victim has engaged in prior honor code violations.”
Those facts are investigated, which causes what the school describes as an “inherent tension”.
Jenny McComb, an LDS churchgoer who handles sexual assault cases for a British university, said the honor code is designed “to promote a nice environment for LDS students”.
“A lot of students feel very positively toward it,” she continued. “But if the honor code is acting as a shield to protect and conceal sexual violence, that’s not working. There is nothing honorable about protecting sex offenders.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s