Last week, BYU announced the appointment of two personnel to lead the school’s overhauled Title IX office (after coming under fire for mishandling of victims’ confidentiality as well as involving the Honor Code Office to discipline students who complained of sexual assault). This topic brought many problems to light, and BYU formed a committee to recommend improvements. This committee was considered a strong first step. However, the choice to appoint two insiders who have no Title IX background and are on record supporting BYU’s previous failed approaches has been perceived as a setback or even a diversionary tactic, a slap in the face to the victims who brought these issues to light.

One of the main concerns that was brought to light in the original complaints was that the students who were victims of sexual assault and rape were also referred to the Honor Code Office. Sometimes this was due to their own violations of the Honor Code–violations that pale in comparison to sexual assault and rape–and sometimes there was no indication that the individual had broken the Honor Code, but they were referred anyway. Prior Title IX coordinator Sarah Westerberg openly lauded the “chilling effect” the involvement of the Honor Code Office had on rape reports in a campus meeting. These two new appointees replace Westerberg, but victims point out that they are also insiders who don’t truly support Honor Code amnesty (a best practice from other schools) to encourage reporting of rapes. From an interview with Carrie Jenkins, Turley (new appointee) says of the “need” to refer some victims to the Honor Code Office:

Of course, the end result of some Title IX investigations will be to provide findings to the Honor Code Office for discipline of respondents in order to maintain a safe campus environment.

With that said, I’ve been able to witness during my time at BYU the great blessing the Honor Code is in the lives of our students and campus community. The Honor Code is not meant to be punitive – it is educational and restorative. I’ve seen numerous instances of students who have worked with the Honor Code Office and had wonderful, positive, life-changing experiences.

Life changing, indeed–being raped, then threatened with expulsion if you become pregnant as one student who had done nothing to violate the Honor Code but was kidnapped and raped found in this news report by victims’ advocate Elizabeth Smart.

Turley’s statement regarding the committee’s recommended amnesty clause:

The recommendation for an amnesty clause in BYU’s sexual misconduct policy is in process.  Making changes to university policy is not a simple process, nor should it be.

But she clarifies that she believes the current practices are already compliant with the spirit of the law, something students who were assaulted would vehemently disagree:

However, the intent of the recommendation is already being honored in conjunction with the guidelines from the current sexual misconduct policy and there is regular, ongoing discussion on how to make this work with current Title IX cases.

She adds that:

Being a victim of sexual misconduct is never a violation of the Honor Code and we hope to be able to thoroughly reinforce this message with our student body in conjunction with the new amnesty clause.

Nobody said it was (except in the case of a student being impregnated by her attacker in which case all bets are apparently off), so this statement looks like mere double-speak. One of the main issues with not giving students who are victims of assault full amnesty from Honor Code investigations is that not doing so puts a very effective tool into the hands of rapists. All a rapist has to do to avoid prosecution is to trick a student into a situation that is a violation of the Honor Code–being in the wrong place at the wrong time or doing the wrong thing–and that student is incredibly unlikely to report the assault for fear of expulsion. This includes victims who are drugged and coerced into behavior to which they would not consent. The university makes quite a wing man.

Wheat & Tares has blogged about these issues last year here, here, and here.

An introductory statement from the advocates’ group:

This last summer, we as BYU Rape Survivors banded together in an effort to urge BYU to revise the way they handle victims of rape and sexual assault on their campus. Following much coverage by the media, BYU commissioned an Advisory Council that provided BYU with a report in October of last year.

Last Friday, BYU announced the hiring of a new Title IX coordinator and a brand new position hire of Victim Advocate. Together, a group of strong survivors and I drafted a response to BYU’s decision to hire internally for the positions of Title IX Coordinator and Victim Advocate. This decision reflects a gross failure on the part of BYU to commit to and act in a way to bring about change in the way BYU handles rape and sexual assault. We feel it does nothing but reinforce a systemic error in collective thinking at BYU. We are outraged. As recently as May of last year, Tiffany Turley (newly appointed Title IX Coordinator) was against an Amnesty Clause, or an immunity for victims of rape and sexual assault to be pursued for circumstances surrounding the attack. This demonstrates to us that she will not be loyal to victims. This is an egregious failure. The “chilling effect” that BYU needs to overcome will only be perpetuated by appointing an individual who believes in this way. Victims will continue to fear punishment at the hands of the Tile IX office. Many of us in the BYU Survivor community, when we turned to BYU for help, were shamed, threatened and absolutely wounded by the treatment we received.

By simply moving around existing personnel within an already offensive organization, BYU has shown they have not understood the true spirit outlined in the Advisory Council Report that they committed to follow. Please, hear our outrage! Feel our pain! We need your support as we continue to fight for a safer place for our sisters and brothers at BYU.

The open letter they have published to the university president:

President Worthen of Brigham Young University,

This letter is in regards to the recent announcement identifying the individuals you have hired for the Title IX and Victim Advocate positions. We are thankful that you have moved forward with filling the positions, accepting amnesty and separating the Honor Code Office from the Title IX office. However, we have some grave concerns regarding the choices that were made and have been unable to reach you to discuss them. We recognize and respect the education, experience and passion that these individuals possess, but our concerns are as follows:

First, you filled the positions with current employees who were both working at BYU during the times that university policies and practices failed to support victims of sexual crimes. It is vital to make sure that external voices contribute to organizational change. Hiring from within is not only a missed opportunity to bring in new ideas and attitudes that could affect real change at BYU, also runs the risk that said persons will be seen by survivors as being as loyal to the university’s interests rather than to the victims they serve. A Title IX Coordinator should also be impartial from university allegiance when investigating and enforcing the law. A Victim Advocate is a liaison with the police department, someone who knows the court process and who knows the resources to get the help they need.

Our second concern is that the hired individuals have no prior experience in these positions. The sexual assault victims at BYU need strong and experienced personnel to build new policies and procedures separate from those conducted in the past, which are now the subjects of both civil and criminal investigations. A Title IX Coordinator needs to understand and enforce sexual assaults as the crimes they are, not simply as misconduct. For the Victim Advocate you have hired a psychologist, which is a resource, not a victim advocate.

We, as informed and concerned members of this community, recommend the following to help ensure these individuals will make informed decisions and carry out policies that are in the best interest of the victims.

  • Provide the BYU Victim Advocate with a minimum of 100 hours of advocate training by September 1, 2017 and volunteer with a local advocate agency for the first six months of her position.
  • Require the new Title IX Director to attend the Four Corners of Title IX Compliance and the Trauma-Informed Sexual Assault Investigation and Adjudication Institution.
  • Require the new Title IX Director to shadow a currently effective Title IX Director, such as that at UVU.
  • Have the Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault evaluate progress of The New Title IX Director and BYU Victim Advocate and their training. If they are unable to fulfill their responsibilities, replace the individuals or take immediate steps to make sure qualifications are met.

The university has a responsibility to make an unequivocal statement that sexual assault is not only illegal but pure evil. Rape is not sex, and all forms of sexual assault are criminal acts. The university also has the responsibility to victims of sexual assault in comforting, aiding and protecting them.

President Worthen, some of us were raped at BYU. We fight with nightmares, anxiety, depression, and shame every day because of the felony criminal acts committed against us. We fought through our own shame and confusion to come forward and ask BYU for help. We were told we were to blame for the criminal acts committed. We were threatened with expulsion and given academic holds. And we were not provided with resources for our physical, emotional and spiritual healing. We do not want anyone to suffer as we have. To feel so alone, worthless and hopeless as we have. We plead with you to love your students. Give them the best support and resources available. Show them that Heavenly Father loves them and Jesus Christ has never left them. Please make BYU a place that stands up for victims and recognizes that we are all children of God.

Wheat & Tares supports the victims of sexual assault and hopes the university will take the steps outlined by this group and its own committee to prevent assault on campus and to preserve the dignity and rights of all students to be protected while pursuing their education.