Protesters call on BYU to make changes regarding Honor Code and sexual assault survivors

Posted at 5:59 PM, Apr 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-21 10:59:42-04

PROVO, Utah – Dozens of protesters rallied near the Brigham Young University campus in Provo Wednesday, demanding changes to the school’s Honor Code as it relates to survivors of sexual assaults.

The protesters said they want BYU to do more to protect victims of sexual assault, specifically as it relates to enforcement of the strict Honor Code at the school—which is run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Protesters delivered about 57,000 signatures to school officials, calling on them to change Honor Code policies.  The protesters printed those Wednesday morning, and by later in the day they had gathered a total of more than 94,000 signatures.

The group wants students who report rape or sexual assault to be given amnesty for any Honor Code violations they may reveal while reporting the crimes, because they say the fear of losing academic standing may prevent survivors from reporting an attack.

The protest comes after a student claims she was investigated for potential Honor Code violations after she reported a sexual assault. BYU has stated they are looking at changing their policies, but the survivor of the alleged assault said she worries the move is a PR stunt. 

The student claims she was contacted about alleged Honor Code issues after school officials received a copy of the police report relating to the alleged sexual assault.

Kelsey Bourgeois, a former BYU student, was among those at the protest.

“We are here to try to stop the silence that victims are facing when they've been sexually assaulted or raped,” she said. “They go to BYU, and then they are investigated by the Honor Code."

One by one, protestors came forward to speak.

“I am a survivor, and I have personally experienced the victim blaming and the shame from BYU students, from the culture in this valley, from the culture in the [LDS] Church,” Bourgeois said.

Current students, sexual assault victims from across Utah, and former BYU students like Kelsey Bourgeois banded together.

“We're here representing her and all of the other victims that feel silenced, shamed, investigated, even expelled or suspended from BYU for the circumstances surrounding their rape,” Bourgeois said.

Some at the protest had their arms and mouths secured with tape covered by a teal-colored ribbon, a symbol meant to raise awareness for sexual assaults that often go unreported.

“The administration at BYU needs to be held accountable,” one protester said at the rally.

BYU President Kevin Worthen said he will study the Title IX office and the Honor Code office to address any potential conflicts.

“We recognize that there are some tensions between those two,” he said.

Bourgeois took thousands of signed petitions to the Academic Vice President while marching with supporters.

“We really, really implore you to create an amnesty clause so that survivors feel like they can come forward and be really protected by BYU's Title IX office,” Bourgeois said.

“I'll be happy to take these, and will personally deliver them to President Worthen,” Brent Webb, BYU’s Academic Vice President, said upon receipt of the signatures.

In a recently released YouTube video, Worthen discussed Title IX and the school’s Honor Code and how they relate to victims of sexual assault as well as what the school can do to ensure the safety and well-being of their students.