PROVO — A BYU investigation into an alleged rape of one of its students has ignited debate over whether the university's Honor Code discourages students from reporting sexual assaults.
And in one case, it's raised questions about whether the private university's disciplinary action is interfering with prosecutors' efforts to hold the alleged rapist responsible.
The controversy began April 7, when several witnesses say a representative of BYU's Title IX office spoke up at a rape awareness meeting on campus. The woman told students that the university's Honor Code unfortunately has a chilling effect on victims of sexual assault, but that BYU does not "apologize for having an Honor Code," said Briana Garrido, a student who helped organize the event.
A few students made comments confronting the Title IX representative, who initially attended the meeting only as a spectator, Garrido said. The meeting became "heated" and it was shut down, she said.
Garrido said one woman who commented during the event was a 19-year-old student from California, who said a friend of the man accused of raping her had contacted the Honor Code office about a school conduct rule she had violated.
Garrido said the woman relayed a story about receiving a phone call from the Honor Code office. "The question was not: How are you doing? How can we help? But we’ve heard that you’ve broken the Honor Code, and we need to talk with you," she said.
This week, a Utah County deputy attorney addressed the woman's case, saying prosecutors are frustrated with BYU for brushing aside their requests by blocking the woman from registering for classes due to a pending Honor Code investigation.
The woman may move back to California if she is barred from enrolling in school going forward, Utah County deputy attorney Craig Johnson said Friday.
"If (the victim) can’t register for classes, she may be leaving out of state next week," Johnson said. "We’re still trying to determine that. We're spending a lot of time and effort trying to figure out where our victim’s going to be instead of trying to concentrate on holding her rapist accountable."
Johnson said the woman became the subject of a university investigation after Utah County sheriff's deputy Edwin Randolph, who is a friend of her alleged rapist, inappropriately turned a police report over to BYU's Honor Code office. The report potentially incriminated the rape victim for alleged violations of the Honor Code, according to Johnson.
Randolph was charged in February with retaliation against a victim, a third-degree felony, for allegedly turning the document over to BYU "(knowing) that the victim in the case could receive disciplinary action based on the information contained within (it)," court documents say.
Nasiru Seidu, the 39-year-old defendant in the rape case, was charged with the same retaliation offense shortly before Randolph. The retaliation charges against both men were dropped Feb. 24 due to new information in those cases that prosecutors said they could not release.
Seidu, of Orem, will be in court for a competency hearing in the rape case on June 8. He was charged in October with first-degree felony rape in connection with the alleged sexual assault in an apartment near campus on Sept. 25.
BYU began looking into a potential Honor Code breach by the victim around November, shortly after receiving the police report from Randolph, Johnson said. He noted that prosecutors asked BYU to put that investigation on hold "so that (the victim) is not revictimized in the meantime, which would jeopardize her ability to testify" in Seidu's criminal trial.
Late last year, Johnson said, the university "had no problem holding off on everything" related to the Honor Code investigation until Seidu's trial was resolved. He said the woman registered for winter semester classes and has been attending BYU.
However, BYU administrators informed prosecutors they wouldn't "wait any longer" to move forward with the Honor Code investigation into the woman, Johnson said.
At that point, a victim's rights attorney informed the university that the woman would not interview with them until Seidu's case reached a conclusion, and prosecutors reached out again to BYU to ask that the school wait until after the trial, according to Johnson.
"They basically said, 'Well, we’re at this point we’re going to hold off, but we’re going to not allow her to register for any classes any more until she cooperates with us and sits down for our investigation,'" Johnson said. "So in effect they’re holding her registration hostage until they can interview her, which we have requested they not do. So that’s the frustration."
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins issued a statement Wednesday, addressing concerns voiced by students at the April 7 on-campus meeting.
"A victim of a sexual assault will never be referred to the Honor Code office for being a victim of sexual assault. A report of sexual assault would be referred to the BYU Title IX office — not to the Honor Code office," Jenkins said. "A Title IX investigation at BYU is separate from the Honor Code process. The purpose of the Title IX investigation is to investigate the sexual assault, not other Honor Code violations."
BYU didn't respond Friday to multiple requests for additional information, including clarification about whether Title IX office employees are legally allowed to inform the Honor Code office of violations committed by victims of sexual crimes.
Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said Friday that he wanted to "clarify" how prosecutors felt about BYU's interaction with his office, both generally and in light of the case against Seidu. He said BYU has not "impair(ed) our ability to prosecute this case effectively."
"I think it is clear that BYU has been a good partner," Buhman said. "We definitely are zealous in protecting victims, but BYU hasn’t infringed upon that. They have not conducted themselves illegally, unprofessionally or anything."
Buhman differed from Johnson in his analysis of how the case would be affected if the victim ends up moving to California while her status with BYU remains uncertain.
"We deal with cases with victims all throughout the country and even internationally. We're able to do this," he said. "It might be a matter of minor inconvenience, but we can certainly do it."
The Utah County Sheriff's Office on Friday confirmed that Randle, a jail deputy, was disciplined for turning over the police report to BYU. Randle is now back at work, but at one point was put on paid leave, said agency spokesman Sgt. Spencer Cannon. Randle has been with the sheriff's office for at least 18 years, Cannon said.
Cannon also stressed that Randle was not purporting to be acting on sheriff's office business when he turned over the police report against Seidu to BYU.
Randle's attorney, Jeremy Jones, released a statement Friday saying Randolph "never intended that BYU take Honor Code action against the female victim."
"Rather, he intended that BYU investigate male students, particularly male athletes, who may have victimized women or otherwise violated BYU standards regarding sexual conduct," Jones said. "Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman properly dismissed witness retaliation charges once he was in possession of all the facts and deputy Randolph's intent was made clear."
Questions about the Honor Code and how it may impact victims reporting sexual assaults has caught the attention of more than 30,000 people online through a petition asking the university to "stop punishing victims of sexual assault."
Briana Garrido, a rape survivor, says the issue of protecting sexual assault victims is complex and not unique to BYU.
"Universities across this country are facing this challenge," Garrido said. "(At) any university that has a conduct policy, (it) automatically becomes difficult for a survivor to come forward about their assault if they’re afraid of facing the consequences that would take place because they broke that code of conduct."
Other universities have provisions in their codes of conduct accounting for victims of sexual violence.
Baylor University, a conservative Christian university, has an “amnesty” clause for reports of sexual assault with regard to “any alcohol and minor drug use violations."
"The university may also offer amnesty or leniency to the alleged victim or reporting witness with respect to other violations of university policy,” the policy states.
Wheaton College, also a conservative Christian school, has an amnesty clause in regards to drinking or drugs.
Washington & Lee University, which is not religious but has an extremely strong student honor code system, also has an amnesty clause “to remove any barriers to reporting.”
Garrido said she appreciates BYU's Honor Code but wants to see it become more flexible in circumstances such as sexual assault.
"I do not believe BYU should ever, ever, ever retract the Honor Code. I believe that it’s important," she said. "But I also believe that every policy has unintended consequences. It would be really important and valuable for BYU to take a step back and look at how the Honor Code might be affecting survivors of sexual assault and their willingness to come forward and report."
Contributing: Ladd Egan, Paul Nelson, Daphne Chen
Email: [email protected]