BYU gay rape victims are punished for reporting sexual assault.

These Reports of Gay BYU Students Getting Punished for Reporting Their Rapes Are Shattering

These Reports of Gay BYU Students Getting Punished for Reporting Their Rapes Are Shattering

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Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Aug. 17 2016 1:55 PM

BYU Is Punishing Gay Students Who Report Their Rape

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The BYU campus.

Jaren Wilkey/Wikipedia

Brigham Young University has a well-documented rape problem, one that’s different from the sexual assault crisis that plagues many other campuses: When female rape victims report their assault, they are often punished for breaking the school’s stringent honor code, while their rapists frequently walk free.

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern covers courts and the law for Slate.

Now a shattering report in the Salt Lake Tribune confirms what many sexual abuse prevention advocates feared: Gay and bisexual students also face punishment, suspension, and even expulsion for reporting rape by someone of the same sex.

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The source of this manifest injustice is BYU’s honor code, which prohibits “homosexual behavior,” defined as “not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” When students report same-sex rape, they may be accused of violating this provision of the honor code. In one instance detailed by the Tribune, a student named Andy told a bishop that he had been raped—and the bishop gave him two options: “Repent” to the honor code office, or allow the bishop himself to report Andy for acting on “homosexual behavior.”

Andy chose to confess to the honor code office and was quickly plied with invasive questions about “what kind of sex had occurred, the dates of when it had occurred, where it had occurred.” (The man who raped him had been his secret boyfriend prior to the assault.) His honor code investigator appeared utterly uninterested in securing justice for Andy and instead provided him with religious readings encouraging him to, in Andy’s words, “cure myself of my gayness.” Eventually, the school placed Andy on “withheld suspension,” allowing him to attend classes while stripping him of his job, his housing, and his ability to engage in campus activities.

The Tribune article charts several similar (and similarly appalling) stories while noting that BYU’s vigorous penalization of rape victims may actually enable more rape. Rapists know their victims will face discipline if they divulge their assault to the school. That means they can rape students of the same sex with near certainty that they will not be punished by BYU: The victim will be unlikely to report the assault for fear of punishment—and if he or she does, the school is much more likely to discipline the victim than the rapist.

Is this terrible system at all legal? Absolutely not. Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination at schools (like BYU) that receive public funding, requires universities to thoroughly investigate reports of sexual assault. By penalizing rape victims and failing to conduct more than a cursory investigation, BYU is violating Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination, which protects students against sexual violence—including same-sex assault. However, BYU’s Title IX coordinator Sarah Westerberg has reportedly declared that the school will “not apologize” for dissuading rape victims from reporting their abuse.

The federal government is currently investigating BYU, along with more than 200 other schools, for mishandling rape reports in violation of Title IX. It’s too late to help victims like Andy, who suffered through the pain of sexual abuse and sought out help, only to be shamed by their school’s humiliating, unlawful policies. But there’s still time for the federal government to crack down on BYU’s harmful discrimination—by refusing to send public funds to a school whose reactionary honor code punishes victims and enables rapists.