A woman attending Brigham Young University-Idaho, a Mormon college, was sexually assaulted, and then expelled from school because she had consumed alcohol before the assault, The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting.
In order to attend a Mormon university, a student must have what’s called an “ecclesiastical endorsement” from a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints bishop, who confirms that a student is living according to Mormon teachings. Among other things, that means no alcohol, no caffeine, no premarital sex, and no “homosexual behavior.” A bishop can revoke a student’s endorsement at any time, effectively expelling them from college.
That’s what happened to the unidentified sexual assault victim. Using the pseudonym “Maria,” the woman says that she and some other students were at an off-campus apartment last month. She doesn’t deny that she had been drinking, and in fact, admits that she was intoxicated.
Maria says that she fell asleep and, over the course of the next couple of hours, a fellow student, whom she identified as an acquaintance, repeatedly fondled her and attempted to tear off her clothes.
The woman later went to the police and then to her school to report the assault. BYU-Idaho substantiated the woman’s claim that she had been sexually assaulted.
@byuidaho Every time you punish a rape/assault victim you convince other victims to keep quiet. Every forced–silent victim protects an offender. Every protected offender is free to rape or assault again. BYU-I, this is disgusting and harmful.https://t.co/3PJbKhah8J
— Glen Pumpkins (@GlenPumpkins) August 6, 2018
That should have been the end of it – and indeed, even though the woman had violated the school’s honor code by drinking, she was supposedly protected by an amnesty program. Mormon colleges and universities, such as BYU and its affiliate universities, have an amnesty program that allows victims of sexual assault to avoid punishment if they come forward to report being victimized.
However, that policy can easily be undermined by ecclesiastical endorsement – which is exactly what happened to Maria.
Maria’s alleged assailant went to the woman’s bishop and told her that she’d been drinking alcohol prior to the assault. The bishop, whose name has not been released, deemed the sexual assault “irrelevant” and revoked the woman’s endorsement, effectively expelling her from school.
Steven Healy, who works with colleges and universities in preventing sexual assault, says that the need for ecclesiastical endorsement effectively renders such universities’ amnesty programs meaningless.
“It sounds to me like the system has a built-in loophole that would facilitate retaliation. What’s the message you’re sending to people who want to report that they’ve been assaulted? It says to folks, ‘Don’t come forward because you’re going to be punished — in another system, but nonetheless, you’re going to be punished.'”
The LDS Church, while refusing to comment specifically on Maria’s story, defended the ecclesiastical endorsement requirement in a prepared statement.
“Bishops have an important responsibility to help [college students] live [according to Mormon teachings] and continue to grow spiritually.”
Maria, for her part, won’t be going to back to BYU-Idaho, whether she’s eventually allowed back or not.
“It’s a terrible place. I don’t feel safe there.”