Advisory council, protesters react to BYU sexual assault policy changes

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
BYU academic vice president Brent Webb speaks with protesters who stand in solidarity with rape victims on the BYU campus during a sexual assault awareness demonstration on April 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Recent changes to BYU’s sexual assault policy have pleased both researchers who suggested changes and protesters who spurred conversation about the policy.

Janet Scharman, the chair of the Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault, said she wasn’t surprised the BYU administration decided to adopt all 23 of the council’s recommendations.

“As a council, we felt like every recommendation that we forwarded was defensible (and) would be helpful and make a difference,” Scharman said. 

Kelsey Bourgeois, a former BYU student who attended the April protest on the BYU campus, said she was pleasantly surprised BYU decided to implement an amnesty clause for victims of sexual assault.

“Even if someone was habitually breaking the rules at BYU, they should still feel confident in coming forward,” Bourgeois said. “I went to BYU, so I totally get that following the Honor Code is of the utmost importance, but the whole point of this is to say it’s not more important than stopping sexual assault on our campus.”

Bourgeois said she wishes the recommendations included amnesty for any Honor Code infractions disclosed during reports of sexual assaults — rather than only infractions that occurred at or near the time of the assault — and more explicit instructions on training ecclesiastic leaders to handle reports of sexual assault.

However, Bourgeois said the policy changes alleviated the concerns she was protesting about in April.

“I’m so, so happy,” Bourgeois said. “The policy changes are not perfect, from my view, but they’re a huge step forward and I’m just really impressed with (BYU) for doing the right thing on this.”

Scharman said the council considered the potential negative effects of an amnesty clause, but in the end decided the amnesty clause was the right choice.

“We leaned in favor of trying to reach out and care for people and help them to report and get the support that they need here,” Scharman said.

BYU nursing professor and advisory council member Julie Valentine said she isn’t concerned about false reporting because of the amnesty clause.

“We know that so few victims report,” Valentine said. “We need to encourage reporting so that we can provide services to victims and so that we can identify perpetrators to make our campus safer.”

Valentine said the council worked hard throughout the summer to complete its report.

“All of us felt a huge commitment to our students,” Valentine said. “We were heartsick thinking that there were victims who never came forward to report and then never received services. We were distressed by victims that did report and did not feel supported.”

Valentine said believing and supporting people who say they were sexually assaulted is important.

“That’s where it has to start: it’s how individuals are treated by those that they first share this information with,” Valentine said.

Scharman said she hopes more victims will report sexual assault as a result of the policy changes.

“If they will come forward, then our goal is to be able to help them; support them,” Scharman said.

Valentine expressed a desire for greater awareness of sexual assault on campus.

“Hopefully this report will stimulate a lot of discussion in wards, in classes, in friendships, in relationships, so that there’s increased education about how we should respond to victims of violence,” Valentine said.

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