BYU, Rape, and the Honor Code: A Letter

The following is a letter I sent to various BYU administrators, responding to the news articles on how rape victims have been treated by the Honor Code Office. Feel free to use it if you want. I am probably less harsh here than many of you would be (and arguably is deserving), but I’ve found that a measured tone seeking for understanding has been the most effective way for me to communicate when I desire to express criticism or hope for change. I felt the need to do something and writing’s what I’m best at, so I wrote a little something. I’ll look for other opportunities to work to make change. Here’s a petition that you can sign:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a soon-to-be alumnus and Master’s student (starting fall 2016) at Brigham Young University and am absolutely heartbroken at the recent news reports of rape victims being punished by BYU’s Honor Code Office for the circumstances surrounding their rape.

I understand that the policy is meant to ensure the Honor Code being upheld and does not discipline victims for their rape, but rather for the circumstances surrounding it. Unfortunately, this decision, however well intended, serves to silence victims of rape and sexual assault. This only reinforces needless shame and guilt on behalf of the victims at a time when they need ecclesiastical and administrative support.

BYU’s administration has expressed some concern that granting victims of rape and sexual assault immunity from discipline regarding Honor Code violations would create a loophole for students to escape repercussions for engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. I think a lengthy quote from the prophet whose name our university bears is appropriate:

“Suppose that in this community there are ten beggars who beg from door to door for something to eat, and that nine of them are imposters who beg to escape work, and with an evil heart practice imposition upon the generous and sympathetic, and that only one of the ten who visit your doors is worthy of your bounty; which is best, to give food to the ten, to make sure of helping the truly needy one, or to repulse the ten because you do not know which is the worthy one? You will all say, administer charitable gifts to the ten, rather than turn away the only truly worthy and truly needy person among them. If you do this, it will make no difference in your blessings, whether you administer to worthy or unworthy persons, inasmuch as you give alms with a single eye to assist the truly needy.”

It strikes me that if anyone is truly in need of charity, generosity, and sympathy, victims of rape and sexual assault are those people. While I do not know the exact details of the cases reported on, or countless others that I have read and heard about in the days following the reports, I am confident that granting these victims immunity from separate Honor Code Office discipline is clearly the charitable, generous, sympathetic, and above all, Christ-like thing to do.

Are there times when these victims made poor choices that played a part in the rape or other sexual assault? Perhaps. But they are not to blame. They have had their agency and chastity violated by another person. They are victims. They need love. They need understanding. They need kindness. They need support.

If they are silenced, the rapists, those that violate agency and chastity, those that mock and blaspheme the sacred autonomy of others will remain free. Free to continue their immoral and harmful behavior. Free to rape and harm again.

Please, care for the victims. They need you. Stop the silencing of victims and grant them immunity, to work together to make BYU a safe and Christ-like place for all.


Conor Hilton

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