- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Brigham Young University launched a website for people to provide feedback on the school’s sexual assault policy, and is looking into revisions such as an amnesty clause that could give victims immunity from honor code violations committed in the lead-up to a sexual assault.

The Mormon-owned school launched the website Thursday, following the barrage of recent complaints over its practice of opening honor code investigations into students after they report being sexually assaulted.

The website is the first big change since BYU created an advisory council to examine its sexual assault policies a few weeks ago. The group is made up of four faculty members, including assistant nursing professor Julie Valentine.

She said committee members have met about once a week and exchanged emails and phone calls daily.

“We need to develop a culture that supports victims coming forward,” Valentine said.

The Mormon church said in a statement that BYU is taking significant steps to examine its sexual assault policies and should be given the time and space necessary to revamp its system if changes are needed.

The committee plans to bring in outside experts to provide feedback and guidance on BYU’s policy. The committee also plans to look into increasing education for students on such things as how to recognize sexual assault, what consent is and how to talk to someone who confides in you about being assaulted.

The council has already reached out to BYU student and sexual assault survivor Madeline MacDonald to discuss her experiences at the school.

She says whether the new website makes a difference will depend on how the school handles the feedback it receives. She is worried that they could simply handpick the feedback that makes them look the best and ignore the rest.

“My experience with BYU’s reporting system so far and with the faculty has not been a positive one, and so I’m definitely wary of how they’ll handle this,” she said.

The website allows students to anonymously give BYU information on any experiences they’ve had at the school and how best it can improve its practices related to sexual assaults.

Valentine said one of the things that get in the way of victims reporting a sexual assault could be the school’s honor code. Committee members have discussed an amnesty clause to remove that barrier.

All BYU students must agree to abide by the honor code. Created by students in 1949, it prohibits such things as “sexual misconduct,” or “obscene or indecent conduct or expressions.” Violators can be expelled or otherwise punished. As it is currently written, reporting students could also be investigated for how much sexual contact they consented to before the assault.

BYU student Caitlan McQuay said she was sexually assaulted last year off-campus. She said if it had happened at the school, she wouldn’t have known where to report it, and would have been worried that the honor code office would investigate her even though she said she didn’t do anything wrong.

Valentine said it’s also important to make sure students understand what resources are available to them if they are sexually assaulted and where to report the crime.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of changes develop out of this,” Valentine said.


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