BYU student files complaint: was she punished for reporting assault?

Other students have also come forward accusing the school of investigating them after they reported similar incidents. 

Rick Bowmer/ AP
Brent Webb, the Academic Vice President of Brigham Young University, speaks with protesters who stand in solidarity with rape victims during a sexual assault awareness demonstration on Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Provo, Utah. BYU students who say they were sexually assaulted are finding themselves under investigation for possible violations of the Mormon school's honor code against sex and drinking. BYU says it will re-evaluate the practice.

A sophomore student at the Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, has accused the school of punishing her for reporting her rape to the police, a practice she alleges is commonly used and discourages victims from coming forward. 

Madi Barney filed a federal complaint under Title IX  against the school alleging that the school put her on academic hold and refused to honor her request to retroactively withdraw from two courses after the alleged assault. In addition, Ms. Barney says, students who report sexual assault are being disciplined for breaking the school's honor code. 

Brigham Young University (BYU), a private school operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a strict honor code which, in addition to academic honesty, prohibits drinking, drug use, premarital sex, and being in the same bedroom with students of the opposite sex, among other things. 

"I was raped, and I waited four days to report because I was so terrified about my standing at BYU," Barney writes on a petition asking the school to grant sexual assault victims immunity, so that they are not afraid of coming forward to report incidences of rape. In the petition, which had garnered 90,000 supporters by Wednesday afternoon, Barney says that the incident is not isolated, contending that the school has a history of using its honor code to punish victims of rape.

"That's a huge reason why so many survivors are afraid to come forward and contributes to why BYU’s rape and sexual assault numbers are inaccurately low," the petition continues. 

BYU has maintained that students will not be investigated for being sexually assaulted. However, "sometimes in the course of an investigation, facts come to light that a victim has engaged in prior Honor Code violations," President Kevin J. Worthen wrote in a Tuesday statement. 

Other students have also come forward accusing the school of investigating them after similar cases of rape. One student told The Salt Tribune Lake that the Title IX coordinator, Sarah Westerberg, forwarded her rape complaint to the Honor Code office. The student said that Ms. Westerberg told her she had to forward the case because some students have lied of being raped, in order to avoid being disciplined for engaging in premarital sex. Another student also told the Tribune that after she reported an assault to the Title IX office, the coordinator forwarded it to the Honor Code office, saying that the school policy required her to do that. 

Barney was allegedly raped by Nasiru Seidu, who is not a student, at her off-campus apartment. Mr. Seidu was later arrested and is facing criminal charges. He has denied the charges and said that the encounter was consensual.

"We have received information that you have been a victim of behavior that is addressed in the university Sexual Misconduct Policy," a BYU Title IX coordinator wrote to Barney, according to the Tribune. "We have also received information that you have engaged in behavior that violates the BYU Honor Code."

Barney's lawyers advised her not to take part in the university's honor code investigation. The school then blocked her from registering for classes. 

BYU President Kevin Worthen has said the school will review the "inherent tension" that exists between the the school's Title IX and honor code policies.

"We understand the concerns that have been expressed about the reporting of sexual assaults to our Title IX Office, and we care deeply about the safety of our students," President Worthen said in a Tuesday statement. "We have decided to study these issues, including potential structural changes within the university, the process for determining whether and how information is used, and the relationship between the Title IX Office and the Honor Code Office." 

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