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BYU Punished a Rape Victim for Breaking Their 'Honor Code,' Student Claims

Utah's Mormon-run Brigham Young University requires that students "manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity." When Madi Barney was raped, she claims, she was accused of violating this oath.
Image via Stocksy / Danil Nevsky

After she was raped, Madi Barney says, she was afraid to come forward. Though this is somewhat common in sexual assault survivors, Barney's case is different: She is a student at Brigham Young University, a Mormon-run university with a strict honor code in place. According to a petition she posted online, she was hesitant to report the alleged assault because she was worried she'd punished for doing so.


"I was raped," Barney wrote online, "and I waited four days to report because I was so terrified about my standing at BYU."

Her fears, as it turns out, were founded. According to the petition, the BYU administration put Barney's "academic future on hold due to their allegations that I broke the Honor Code in the circumstances of my assault." The BYU honor code establishes rules of conduct consistent with the Mormon Church. It forbids coffee, tobacco, homosexual behavior, and "requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity."

Barney says she was raped last fall by a 39-year old man and that she pressed charges against him. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, BYU launched an Honor Code investigation into Barney's behavior after acquiring a copy of the police report. "We have received information that you have been a victim of behavior that is addressed in the university Sexual Misconduct Policy. We have also received information that you have engaged in behavior that violates the BYU Honor Code," a BYU administrator reportedly wrote to Barney afterwards.

Provo police confirmed to Broadly that the alleged perpetrator was arrested for rape in September, 2015. The case has been moved to the Utah County Attorney's Office, which handles felonies, and the prosecution is ongoing. According to inmate records, he was released on bond at the time; he was arrested again this year on another charge and released.


BYU officials declined Broadly's request for comment and referred us to a video posted on the school's website late last week. In it, BYU president, Kevin Worthen discusses the issue of sexual assault and Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sexual discrimination on campuses and requires schools that receive any federal funding to address reports of sexual assault. In the past, sexual assault victims at other universities have successfully sued their schools for failing to jump in.

In the video, Worthen says that Title IX isn't the only thing at BYU that protects students. "We have something else on campus that helps promote an environment that's safe and contributes to the well-being of our students, and that's the honor code," Worthen says. "We recognize that there's some tension between those two." According to the statement, "Victims of sexual assault will never be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault."

"When I sought out resources from BYU, the Title IX coordinator told me that there wasn't enough proof of the assault to grant me those resources," Barney writes. "She also informed me that the Honor Code Office is putting a hold on my academic career by not allowing me to register for any future classes."

"I want victims of sexual violence at BYU to have an immunity clause from the Honor Code so that they don't feel afraid to report," Barney writes. Her petition, at this writing, has over 100,000 signatures, and students protested yesterday outside the school in support. Barney said she is filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education claiming that BYU violated Title IX.

"BYU has made it clear that victims will be punished if they report sexual violence," Barney says in her petition. "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. Without an immunity clause, BYU will continue to be a hostile environment for rape victims, and that emboldens offenders and shames victims."