BYU Sexual Assault Policy Of Victim Blaming May Change After Controversy Surrounding BYU ‘Rape Culture’

It looks like BYU might be making some changes to the way the way it handles sexual assault reports. The Mormon-run school was recently involved in some scandalous headlines following sexual assault reports that resulted in victims being investigated for “honor code violations” and otherwise be treated as though they could be somehow at fault and even potentially punished for the sexual assault perpetuated against them.

The BYU Associate Dean of Students and Title IX director Sarah Westerberg even said in a recent speech, given at a recent BYU Rape Awareness Conference, that she stands behind the BYU policy. That policy comes down to subjecting students who report their sexual assault to campus authorities to an honor code investigation, where students must relay the circumstances of their sexual assault in full detail. The honor code investigations into sexual assaults of BYU students can result in serious penalties for the victims of sexual assault, including suspension or even expulsion from BYU.

Aerial BYU

It didn’t take long for the public backlash against the Associate Dean of Students’ words and the BYU sexual assault policy to begin.

“If this recounting is accurate, when victims of sexual violence at BYU report their attack, they potentially put their academic future at risk. If you’ve been raped while in your boyfriend’s bedroom, you’re in trouble. If you were drinking at a party and were raped, you’re in trouble. If you were fondling a partner who then raped you, you’re in trouble… A woman who has been sexually assaulted may find herself penalized, suspended, even expelled for the circumstances of her attack.”

The notoriously conservative Mormon-run BYU became the subject of an intense and heated public discussion about “rape culture” and about how inappropriate and damaging it is for sexual assault victims to be treated like they are even partially at fault for the heinous crimes committed against them. Many in the Mormon community, including BYU alumni, said that the intrusive honor code investigations and fear of being punished for being sexually assaulted discourages victims from coming forward. In effect, the “honor code” creates a culture where perpetrators of sexual assault at BYU feel as though they can get away with it, or even that if they sexually assault someone, it’s at least in part the victim’s fault.

Apparently, as a result of the massive national criticism of the way that BYU handles sexual assault reports and the way it treats known victims of sexual assault, the Mormon university is considering making some changes to the way sexual assault reports are handled at the school. Fox 13 Now reports that BYU sexual assault reports may soon be handled differently, according to a statement released by the school on April 18.

According to the report, BYU will be utilizing “resources both inside and outside of the university” to study the reporting of sexual assaults to the BYU Title IX Office.

“We understand the concerns that have been expressed about the reporting of sexual assaults to our Title IX Office, and we care deeply about the safety of our students.”

The statement went on to describe that issues pertaining to the reporting of sexual assaults will be studied under the guidance of the BYU president. Some of these issues include the potential for “structural changes” within BYU, the process that is currently being used to determine when, whether and how to use sexual assault-related information, and, perhaps most importantly, the “relationship between the Honor Code Office and the Title IX Office.”

While this news out of BYU seems somewhat promising, it is too little too late for many victims of sexual assault at the patriarchal university. The most recent sexual assault at BYU to grab headlines, and reportedly the case to lead to the University’s potential change of heart when it comes to persecuting victims of sexual assault, involves a 19-year-old BYU student, allegedly the rape victim of a 39-year-old man, Nasiru Seidu.

Alleged BYU Rapist

The alleged rape took place in September of 2015. After the victim reported the incident to police, she was contacted by the BYU honor code office and Title IX office about the sexual assault. BYU found out about the alleged rape because friends of Nasiru Seidu took a copy of the police report to BYU at the behest of the alleged rapist, reports Fox 13 Now.

The alleged rapist reportedly knew that his victim would face disciplinary action up to and including expulsion for her own sexual assault under BYU’s honor code because she’d admitted that the sexual encounter started out consensual.

The unnamed victim told the local media that as a result of the report made by her alleged rapist’s friends, she was currently being investigated for possible honor code violations as a result of allegedly being sexually assaulted while being a BYU student.

As for her alleged rapist, he was arrested for the rape and is currently facing additional charges of retaliating against his victim.

While it seems that BYU might be on the verge of considering making some changes to its honor code policy as it pertains to victims of sexual assault, the current discussion begs the question, “Why is this something that sexual assault victims have to worry about in 2016?”

What do you think? Is BYU just trying to get itself off of the hook and avoid more bad PR by saying it will investigate making changes to its policy regarding victims of sexual assault or is this real progress? Should private universities even have the option of penalizing victims of sexual assault for the crimes perpetuated against them? Is BYU perpetuating a culture that encourages sexual assault through victim shaming?

[Image Courtesy Of Danny La/Getty Images]