SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Several Utah police officials are joining in calls to change Brigham Young University’s practice of opening honor code investigations into students after they report being sexually assaulted, as more sexual assault victims reach out to police to say they have felt silenced by the policy.
The decision by three Provo police leaders to call for changes at the Mormon-owned school marks a significant development in the insular, predominantly Mormon community.
BYU has already launched a review of the practice, but officials there haven’t said yet if they’ll make changes.
Most of the sexual assault victims who have come forward in recent weeks simply want to be heard, but one woman recently asked to file a police report after keeping quiet for about six years, said Kortney Hughes, coordinator for Provo Police’s victim services department.
“Non-reporting is a huge issue anyways here in Utah and nationwide, so this doesn’t help that at all,” said Hughes.
All BYU students must agree to abide by the honor code. Created by students in 1949, it prohibits such things as “sexual misconduct,” or “obscene or indecent conduct or expressions.” Violators can be expelled or otherwise punished.
Hughes is one of three leaders including the police chief in Provo, where BYU is located, who came out this week to question the school’s practice.
Chief John King said in it is vital that the police have victim cooperation when addressing sexual violence, and that he’s pleased BYU is considering changes.
Colleen Payne Dietz, 34, said she was raped by a friend’s uncle when she was a freshman at BYU in 2001.
After inviting Dietz to his apartment, she said the man hid her clothes and raped her while wearing his Mormon garments. She said she was trapped in his room, naked for the entire weekend.
The then 18-year-old told her Mormon bishop, and he launched a disciplinary investigation. She was sent to the school’s honor code office, and the bishop told her if she became pregnant as a result of the rape, she would be kicked out of BYU, Dietz said.
“That was the most upsetting part, because I felt like everything I had planned for all of my life, my educational plans, my future, my career, my life, was being ripped from me because I was raped,” Dietz said.
The Associated Press doesn’t normally identify possible victims of sex crimes, but Dietz said she wants her name to be used so she can share her story with other survivors.
She said she never reported the incident to the police, and doesn’t know what became of her rapist.
BYU said it could not discuss specific honor code investigations of former students because of privacy laws. The school said it would never expel a student for getting pregnant from a rape, and that bishops are not allowed to share information without a student’s consent.
Last week, dozens of BYU students, alumni and others gathered at the campus entrance to present petition signatures to BYU’s president, calling on the university to give victims immunity from honor code violations committed in the lead-up to a sexual assault.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins confirmed Wednesday that the school’s president had received the petition, and that the school had started gathering information.
“This study is looking closely at potential structural changes within the university,” she said in an email.
Hughes said her department is helping such BYU students as Madi Barney, 20, who says she was sexually assaulted and now faces an honor code investigation. The Associated Press doesn’t normally identify possible victims of sex crimes, but Barney said she wants her name to be used so she can help change the policy.
Other current and former BYU students have also recently reported their experience at the school.
Provo Police Sgt. Brian Taylor said predators will use anything they can to keep their victim quiet.
“If you happen to know that the victim you’ve chosen attends an institution where there are serious repercussions for engaging in any sexual activity, that’s an obvious pressure point,” he said.
The former sexual assault investigator said he hopes BYU changes its policy.
Some U.S. colleges with codes of conduct have an immunity clause under which they investigate and punish only the perpetrator of the more severe offense.