The majority of Brigham Young University students believe they would face honor code questions if they are sexually assaulted, according to results of the university’s campus climate survey on sexual assault.
BYU adopted an amnesty clause about a year ago stating that students who report sexual assaults to the university’s Title IX Office will not have that information shared with the Honor Code Office without the student’s consent. The clause also adds leniency for other honor code violations not directly related to assaults that are discovered during an investigation.
Students agree to obey the honor code, which bans activities such as alcohol consumption and premarital sex, in order to attend the university, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The amnesty clause was officially adopted this summer and has been in practice for a year. The clause and the survey were part of 23 recommendations made by BYU’s Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault and subsequently adopted by the university.
Ninety-three percent of students who responded to the survey answered they thought if they were sexually assaulted, their honor code compliance would be investigated. Additionally, 45 percent thought that in order to stay at BYU after a sexual assault, their ecclesiastical endorsement — which is required for students to have in order to attend — would be questioned.
That result of the survey came as a surprise to Ben Ogles, a member of the survey committee, dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences and a professor of psychology. The Honor Code Office and Title IX Office have been moved to separate locations and operate separately.
“I thought surveying in February or March, that more of the students would understand those things, but it’s clear from this that they don’t,” Ogles said.
The campus climate survey was administered in the spring and findings were released Thursday, showing that 43 percent of BYU students completed the survey.
The university did multiple things to get students to participate in the survey, including sending emails from BYU President Kevin Worthen, offering incentives and sending weekly reminders. The survey was open for seven weeks.
Ogles is pleased with the high survey turnout and said the driving factor for students weren’t incentives.
“We have a student body that is very interested in this topic and wanted to make a difference,” Ogles said.
A higher turnout means the university can be more confident the responses represent the general student body.
The survey aimed to gather data on how common sexual misconduct is at BYU, what students’ attitudes toward the Title IX Office are and to find suggestions for how to make BYU safer, among other questions.
The extensive list of questions found that 3.7 percent of students who answered the survey said they had experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact in the last year while enrolled at or attending BYU. It also showed that female students were more likely than men to have experienced unwanted sexual contact during that time.
According to a report of the survey data, 475 students provided information on 730 instances of unwanted sexual contact during their previous year at BYU. Participants could provide information for up to three incidents.
The most common type of sexual misconduct students said they experienced was forced touching, which includes kissing and fondling.
Out of the 730 instances, women reported that 90 percent of the instances included forced touching of a sexual nature, 19 percent of the instances included penetration, 20 percent included attempted penetration and 12 percent included oral sex. For men, in 76 percent of the instances they reported experiencing forced touching of a sexual nature, 25 percent included oral sex, 15 percent included penetration and 7 percent included attempted penetration during the unwanted sexual contact.
Students could select multiple forms of unwanted contact during a single incident.
More than half of the incidents were from a perpetrator who was a current or former dating partner or spouse.
The numbers of unwanted sexual contact in the climate survey are higher than what is typically reported in the university’s annual security report.
The survey shows that students were most likely to report sexual misconduct to a friend or roommate, and 26 percent of those who experienced unwanted sexual contact in the past year had reported it to a bishop, stake president or mission president. Only 3 percent reported their assaults to the Title IX Office and the same amount reported to local police.
In 57 percent of incidents students answered that they didn’t think the incident was serious enough to report. About 21 percent answered that they didn’t report because they were worried about honor code discipline or that their ecclesiastical endorsement would be questioned.
Students feel good about the campus’ general climate, according to the results.
“They reported feeling safe, respected, and trusted among fellow students; feeling valued at BYU; and feeling a part of the BYU community,” the report reads. “They believe BYU is trying hard to make sure students are safe, to protect students’ rights, and to treat them equally and fairly.”
Students who answered said the Title IX Office respected their privacy, was sensitive to them and took cases seriously and fair.
However, the survey results show that a quarter of students answered they were concerned about a lack of sexual assault-related training, services for survivors of sexual assault, sexual assault investigations and accountability for perpetrators of sexual assault. The survey report also shows that 57 percent of students either disagreed or strongly disagreed that BYU is doing a good job of educating students on sexual assault and 39 percent of those who answered said they’d received training on BYU’s sexual misconduct policy.
About 5,600 answered an open-ended question on how to make the university safer.
Ogles said he was surprised by results that showed alcohol and drugs were involved in 6 percent of the incidents of unwanted sexual contact and that victims used drugs or alcohol before only 2 percent of the incidents.
He said additional training on sexual assault will have to be specific to BYU’s culture, which means that training that teaches about alcohol-related situations might not be as useful there as it is elsewhere.
He said the results help BYU know what to do to educate students about sexual assault and prevent it from happening.
“We need to do more than what we are currently doing,” Ogles said.
The report includes several recommendations for BYU, which includes encouraging the reporting of sexual misconduct, increasing awareness for resources available for sexual assault survivors, forming a training committee for sexual misconduct issues and other suggestions. It also recommends the survey information be shared with ecclesiastical leaders to help with training and for the campus climate survey to be periodically repeated.
The university will be acting on the recommendations.
The survey was modeled after the U.S. Department of Justice’s Campus Climate Survey Validation Study, with questions tweaked to be unique to the BYU community, like questions asking if an assault affected a student spiritually.
It’s the first campus climate survey on sexual assault BYU has administered.
Rosemary Thackeray, a professor in the Department of Health Science and a member of the committee that helped design the survey, said the data helps target BYU’s efforts.
“We wanted to make sure we would have data that was useful and helpful to make a difference,” Thackeray said.
She said the results show students don’t know where to go to report an assault, and she hopes there will be increased awareness of where students can report assault and receive help.
Thackeray stresses the importance of reporting sexual assaults, which commonly go unreported across the nation.
“It’s important for victims to understand that reporting helps down the road because if there are perpetrators who are repeat offenders, that can be tracked,” she said.
But she said it’s even more important for students to report sexual assaults so they can receive help.
Ogels said the survey could occur every two or three years. In the next one, he said he’d like to see the incidents of sexual assault decrease and that more students will answer they’ve received training on the topic.
BYU students can confidentially report sexual assaults and receive help at Victim Advocacy Services, Counseling and Psychological Services and Women’s Services and Resources, all in the Wilkinson Student Center.