Former BYU professor charged with sexually abusing a student

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Leer en español: Se acusa ex-profesor de BYU con abuso sexual de una estudiante

Former BYU associate professor Michael James Clay, 45, was charged Thursday with sexually abusing a student during Winter Semester 2020. (BYU Photo)

A former BYU professor was charged Thursday with sexually assaulting a female student during his time as a professor.

Michael James Clay, 45, was charged with two second-degree felony counts of forcible sexual abuse in Provo’s 4th District Court.

Clay still appeared on the BYU’s Geography Department website on June 24 when the charges were filed, but his bio has since been removed. The Deseret News reported Clay has not been an employee of the university since about mid-April.

Clay was in charge of the accusing student’s program of study between January and March 2020, according to charging documents.

“(Clay) has the authority to hire interns and teaching assistants in connection with this program. (Clay) told the victim that if she trusted him more, he might be able to hire her but that he wanted to wait to see how she improved,” the documents say. “(Clay) told the victim that he is very powerful in the victim’s field of study.”

The victim told Clay she was having emotional difficulties and considered Clay to be a mentor and a therapist, charging documents say. “(Clay) told the victim that he could make her feel better and make all the negative feelings go away.”

The student said she met with Clay more than 20 times in his office, where he would play meditation music. He told the student his office was a “safe place and that she should not tell anyone what went on there.”

At one point when the woman talked with Clay about meeting with a counselor or psychiatrist, he told her “meeting with him was more effective” and that they would need to stop meeting if she decided to meet with mental health professionals, according to charging documents.

“(Clay) told the victim that she needed to change her body chemistry and that she needed to practice how to be a good wife and that Defendant could help her,” state the charging documents.

On one occasion, (Clay) gave the victim a priesthood blessing and on another, he “told her that he had prayed about her and felt inspired from God to engage in physical contact with the victim,” say charging documents. (Clay) told the victim that he knew that they were supposed to meet and help each other.”

The victim said she believed Clay at the time. Between Jan. 15 and Feb. 15, Clay allegedly drove the student up a Utah County canyon and touched her inappropriately, the charging documents said.

On about Feb. 19 or 20 he also touched her inappropriately during a meeting in his on-campus office and ignored multiple declarations from the student that she did not want to continue, according to the charging documents.

After the student told Clay she didn’t enjoy the touching, he told her she “needed to practice and to try to connect more,” said the charging documents. “(Clay) led the victim to believe that this was somehow therapy for past issues.”

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