College students who are accused of sexual assault, rape or other allegations of sexual violence on campus may be arrested and tried in court for a crime, or they may be investigated and prosecuted internally for a violation of the student code, possibly resulting in expulsion from the university. In a new twist, one school has been called out for investigating the alleged assault victims for potentially violating the school’s honor code for their own behaviors occurring around the time of the alleged assault.
The school in question is Brigham Young University (BYU), a private university owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU requires students to sign on to its Church Educational System Honor Code, which forbids the use of alcohol and drugs, and prohibits premarital sex. The school’s honor code also outlaws coffee, tea, tobacco, profanity and homosexual behavior, and requires students to be honest, chaste, virtuous, respectful, and observe the school’s dress and grooming standards, among other requirements.
Apparently, the Title IX office at BYU has been sharing information, including reports of sexual assault, with the school’s Honor Code Office. This has led students who reported rape to be investigated for possible honor code violations, such as using drugs or alcohol, engaging in consensual but extramarital sex, being out past curfew, etc. Although the investigated students were cleared of any wrongdoing, the revelation of these investigations has sparked a public outcry. It has been suggested that this practice keeps students from reporting sexual abuse or violence, and may even be used as a tool by an abuser to keep the victim quiet.
The Department of Public Safety is investigating the BYU Police, at the BYU Police Chief’s request, to determine whether investigations are being handled appropriately and to suggest any changes to procedure that should be made. One possible conclusion may be that reports of sexual assault made to campus officials or police should not be shared with the Honor Code Office. Many are also calling for the implementation of an amnesty provision that would allow students to come forward with a sexual assault complaint without fear of investigation or reprisal for any potential campus honor code violations.
Campus disciplinary hearings for honor code violations can be life-altering events for students. Students have the right to be advised or represented by legal counsel at such hearings, and it is strongly recommended that one obtain help from criminal defense attorneys experienced in the highly-specialized area of campus discipline proceedings. In Charlottesville and throughout Virginia, call Rhonda Quagliana of St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP at 434-296-7138.