Universities should have the right to implement their own forms of rules, guidelines, and punishments. If it is a religious-based school then they should have the opportunity to operate under religious constitutions and freedoms. If students sign this contract or attend this university, than they are aware of what they are agreeing to. Seems pretty straightforward and reasonable, right?
Well, unfortunately, this honor code can cause a mess of problems when it comes to unforeseen “consequences” of breaking this honor code. Although I am sure there are many such consequences of this, the one that’s causing the most headlines is rape.
Brigham Young University is currently under fire for its honor code and its lack of intervention for rape victims. Multiple students have come forward saying that when they went to the school about rape allegations, they were threatened with suspension or expulsion for violating the honor code. Sophomore Madi Barny, who ended up drafting a petition to protest the honor code at Brigham Young University, is one of these many victims. One of her arguments is that the logic of the honor code says that if a victim hadn’t been drinking, hadn’t been in a male’s dorm room, or hadn’t been engaging in other sexual activities, perhaps the rape wouldn’t have occurred. Needless to say, I was horrified when I heard about these cases.
Honor codes vary throughout universities. Almost every institution has one, although it mostly refers to cheating and theft. Some school, mostly religious ones, implement an honor code in regards to faith-based moralities. Many of these religious honor codes ask their students to not participate in any illegal activities such as drinking or drug usage, or participate in any sexual immoralities. Some schools, such as BYU, go so far as to place a curfew on their dorms and ask that their students not be alone with a member of the opposite sex in their bedroom. LGBTQA behaviors are especially frowned upon.
There are so many issues with situations like what has occurred at BYU in regards to the honor code. Look, I think Universities have every right to implement honor codes to protect the integrity of their institution AND their students. They have religious freedom within the country, and that should be respected and guarded. But when said honor code begins perpetuating rape culture and begins HARMING students instead of protecting them, it’s a problem. I am not slamming BYU for being a religious institution that has an honor code; I am expressing sadness and horror about its lack of protection for sexual assault victims.
Many students have reported feeling frightened to talk about sexual assault for fear of being punished. A victim should never have to fear retribution.
When universities tell their students that they shouldn’t have broken the honor code, they are telling their students that they deserved to be raped. The university is telling them that rape is a crime that is no worse than drinking or being in the bedroom of a person of the opposite sex.
One of my best friends attends BYU and she told me about a discussion she and her boyfriend had about the situation. She told me she was horrified to hear that this was happening, and how often it was happening to students. She admitted that while, yes, the student probably shouldn’t have broken the honor code, it is still no reason to excuse a rapist’s behavior. “It sends the wrong message”, she said. “We should be helping these victims, not punishing them.”
Her boyfriend, however, had a separate thought. While he sympathized with the victims, he stood by BYU’s honor code. His argument was that many victims may end up crying rape to cover up the fact that what they were doing WAS against the school’s moral policies. He argued that it would give opportunity for students to break the honor code without fear of retribution so long as they cried wolf if they were caught.
Alright, so maybe that’s a plausible argument… Actually, no, it’s not. The number of falsely accused rape reports are about 2-8% of all cases that are REPORTED. That being said, only about 40% of rapes are reported to the police. So that argument really doesn’t hold a lot of weight with me. This argument protects a fraction of potential victims. Being falsely accused of rape is significantly less likely to happen versus being raped and the perpetrator not having any sort of consequence or retribution.
Another argument I’ve seen is expressed on the image on the right, by Damon Linker (A former BYU assistant professor).
I’m going to go ahead and challenge his statement too.
In all honesty, I see it going to the other way around. Predators taking advantage of those that have broken the honor code. Purposefully seeking out young students that are inebriated or that have engaged in sexual behavior because the perpetrators know that they have the honor code on their side. “If they didn’t want anything bad to happen to them, they should have known better than to go to a party.” It helps paint the perpetrator as a victim themselves. Or at the very least, not solely responsible for the rape.
So although the honor code might create the illusion that sexual assault does not occur on the campus, I believe that is false. I’d be willing to challenge Linker’s bet and say that it’s not that there are fewer occurring- there are just even fewer being reported.
Let me be clear though: rape is never the victim’s fault. It does not matter if they are drunk. It does not matter if they are promiscuous. It does not matter if they are alone at night. Rapists are responsible for rape.
And schools like BYU are blurring this message.
I can’t even imagine being in any of these victims’ shoes. To drink at a party, be a victim of sexual assault, and feel as though you can’t tell anyone about the situation because it was “your fault”. ‘I shouldn’t have been drinking’, ‘I never should have gone into his room with him’… to have that kind of guilt and fear is heartbreaking. No one deserves to be taken advantage of and assaulted. Breaking the honor code should not be punished more severely than rape.
Perhaps “do not rape another student” should be written in the honor code to have it be taken a little more seriously.
Have you heard about this instance? What are your thoughts on these honor codes? Do they help or hinder students? Share your thoughts or stories in the comment section below!