A Brigham Young University student is accusing the school of falsely punishing her for reporting to the police that she had been raped.
Madeline MacDonald said she was sexually assaulted by a man she had met on an online dating center while she was an 18-year-old freshman at the school.
She said she reported the incident to the school’s Title IX office. However, the same day she said the honor code office at the school received a copy of the report, causing an investigation to begin on whether MacDonald had violated the behavior code at the school.
Created by students in 1949, the school’s honor code does not allow students to engage in a number of activities, including premarital sex, same-sex dating, drinking alcohol, or even being in the same bedroom as a member of the opposite sex. All students must agree to abide by the code upon entrance into the school.
Madi Barney has a similar story, saying she had been raped while on a date with 39-year-old Nasiru Seidu in her off-campus apartment last September. Seidu has since been arrested and charged with sexual assault. Barney said he gave her a fake name, lied about his age, and did not tell her he was married.
Two months later, Barney was notified that the school was opening an Honor Code investigation into her.
The school discovered the alleged rape after Utah County sheriff’s deputy Edwin Randolph gave them the police report.
“He knew that the victim in the case could receive disciplinary action based on the information contained within the report,” prosecutors said in court records.
The 20-year-old is taking her story public, saying that the school is not allowing her to register for classes. She went on to say she has filed a sexual discrimination complaint with federal agents, reports Corky Siemaszko for NBC News.
A number of students have joined together with other members of the community, including a Utah prosecutor, to argue that the school’s practice of investigating accusers could result in women being too afraid to report instances of sexual assault.
An online petition that asks the school to give students who report instances of rape immunity from Honor Code investigations has garnered over 75,000 signatures so far.
“I am a survivor of rape, and now BYU has put my academic future on hold due to their allegations that I broke the Honor Code in the circumstances of my assault,” Barney said in the petition. “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.”
Meanwhile, BYU president Kevin Worthen remains adamant that the safety of their students comes first, adding that a victim of sexual assault would never be referred to the Honor Code Office. However, he did say that there are instances where it is found out that the victim engaged in Honor Code violations.
The school announced plans this week to re-evaluate its practice and consider making changes.