As of Thursday, May 12, over 113,000 people have signed an online petition to provide students who experience sexual assault with immunity under Brigham Young University’s Honor Code.
The petition comes after a rape awareness event was held on BYU’s campus that highlighted the system and how it treats victims of sexual assault, according to an article by The Huffington Post.
The petition’s author, Madi Barney, created the petition after being sexually assaulted and being put under investigation of the code. After the incident, Barney was put on academic probation at the university and was given no explanation of what rules she was under investigation for violating.
“BYU has made it clear that victims will be punished if they report sexual violence,” Barney said.
“There used to be a time where nobody came forward at all because they knew nothing would be done for them. Now we’re getting to a point where girls know they have the right to come forward and say something.”
Because students affected by sexual assault may be punished by the university, BYU, whether intentionally or not, encourages women to to stay quiet when an assault happens because of the way Title IX reports are handled at the university. Students have to weigh the consequences between letting their attacker get away with what they did or risking being punished through means such as expulsion for being held to the code’s standards.
Senior Catherine Vandiver, a communication sciences and disorders major, said there is a flaw in the system that is allowing honor codes to get in the way of girls’ health and safety.
“There needs to be change in those rules,” Vandiver said. “Whether that’s additions to those rules or something that makes it so those rules can be lifted when somebody’s health and safety is at risk despite them being broken.”
So, will the system change?
“Private schools and religious universities, specifically BYU, might be slower to make those steps because of other systems that are holding them back,” Vandiver said.
While changing the system might be the first thought for public universities, we have to remember private universities are separate and handle affairs differently. It’s easy to say to change the honor code, but this code was implemented for a reason and holds students accountable for their actions under the Latter-day Saints’ religion and how BYU wants their students to behave.
Vandiver finds it is important to remember that despite how far our society and institutions need to go to get rid of the stigma around reporting sexual assault, we have come a long way.
“There used to be a time where nobody came forward at all because they knew nothing would be done for them. Now we’re getting to a point where girls know they have the right to come forward and say something,” Vandiver said.
There is still a long way to go to ensure safety at universities, especially with 278 universities currently being under Title IX investigation. Change will not happen overnight, but it is good to remember we continue to take steps forward to adhering to the needs of students.
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