For several weeks, the Salt Lake Tribune has aggressively reported on the incidence of alleged sexual assaults at Brigham Young University. In one report on May 6, 2016, the newspaper not only implied that a “rape culture” exists at BYU but that the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints materially contributed to that culture. Despite making such extraordinary claims, Tribune reporters did not approach the Church for comment. Following its publication, a Public Affairs representative from the Church contacted the newspaper and asked why the Church had not been given an opportunity to comment on such a major story. One of the two writers acknowledged the “lapse in judgment,” and said she felt that the inclusion of a reference to the Church’s leadership handbook was sufficient. Note to Tribune editors: it wasn’t.
On Thursday of this week (May 19), after becoming aware that the Tribune was soon going to publish a further report with interviews of BYU students who had been assaulted, a Church spokesman again contacted Tribune editors and received a commitment that the Church would be given ample opportunity to participate in future stories that involved the Church. Less than two hours later, the newspaper published the story, again without giving the Church an opportunity to respond.
This is analogous to what is known in the trade as “gotcha journalism” — a practice unworthy of any serious newspaper seeking for balance in its reporting.
Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement:
Sexual assault is a serious concern at campuses across the nation. At Brigham Young University, students enter the campus knowing that they are expected to live according to high standards of personal morality and conduct, and certainly any form of abuse or assault falls well below any such standard. BYU’s remarkable campus community reflects character and students’ commitment to live exemplary lives.
Sadly, there are exceptions. Media have published deeply personal stories of victims of sexual assault who feel they have been treated poorly when reporting their assault. They are painful to read, but we do not believe they represent the ideals BYU or Church leaders follow when responding to victims.
Let us be perfectly clear: There is no tolerance for sexual assault at BYU or in the Church. Assault of any kind is a serious criminal offense, and we support its reporting, investigation and prosecution to the full extent of the law. Victims of assault or recipients of unwelcome sexual attention should be treated with sensitivity, compassion and respect and should feel that those to whom they disclose the assault are committed to helping them deal with the trauma they have experienced. In instances where there may have been conflict between meeting Honor Code and Title IX priorities, BYU is taking significant steps, including forming an advisory council to explore these circumstances and make recommendations for change, as needed.
Today, the university issued a letter outlining that process and launched a website inviting input. We believe their work should be given time and space to proceed so that it can result in a process that more completely reflects care for victims of sexual assault and that provides a safer campus.