BYU requests public's feedback on its handling of sexual assault

BYU requests public's feedback on its handling of sexual assault (KUTV)

(KUTV) BYU, in its efforts to improve and study it's handling of sexual assault reports by students, is asking for feedback from the public.

The university established an advisory council to look into how to help eliminate sexual assault on campus and how to better handle reports of sexual assault so that victims are treated with sensitivity and in accordance with the rules of Title IX. The council's second mission is to find ways to reduce or eliminate sexual assault on campus.

The school's efforts came after criticism for the way the school has handled sexual assault complaints with several women coming forward saying rather than giving them help, the school turned them over to the Honor Code Office for investigation of their behavior.

The school has named four people, all from BYU, to the advisory council. Dr. Julie Valentine, a forensic nurse, sexual assault victim advocate and professor in the BYU College of Nursing, is one of the council members.

"I am pleased and proud with the way the university has decided to approach this," said Valentine who watched with concern when student rape survivors began to publicly criticize the school for the way they were treated and media across the country, first reported by KUTV, reported on the intense public reaction to the school's treatment of rape and sexual assault victims.

As a forensic nurse, Valentine spent many years helping rape victims as they give physical evidence to police. Recently, she has studied the way the criminal justice system responds to sexual assault. She has spoken publicly about the failure of police departments to test DNA evidence in rape cases. Until recently, all police departments in Utah had hundreds of untested rape kits - which contain DNA evidence - in their evidence rooms. Suspects were not investigated or prosecuted.

"A lot of people believe rapes are false reports and that's not true," said Valentine. She added that about two to eight percent of rape reports are false - that's the same as any other violent crime.

Valentine said the BYU advisory council will do a broad study to find out all the reasons why victims are not reporting - aside from the threat of honor code investigations. Then, they will create a clear path for educating the student community about sexual assault and making sure victims have a sensitive and safe reporting process.

RELATED | Provo police chief confident BYU will make changes to benefit sex assault victims

Many who've criticized and petitioned the university have asked that sex assault victims be given immunity from honor code investigations. Valentine said looking into amnesty is top of the advisory council's list.

She said outside experts will be brought in to help the council. There is no timeline for when the study will be concluded or when the advisory council will make recommendations for change to BYU's president who commissioned the study.

Valentine said the group will be working furiously during the summer, but will not rush the process.

Student Madi Barney , a rape survivor who was the first to publicly criticize the school in April during an interview with KUTV, said she hopes the advisory council acts with urgency.

RELATED: BYU student says honor code creates fear, shame in victims of rape

"Immediate action needs to be taken because sexual assault happens so often that there's going to be victims during this 'study period' that need to seek help," she said to KUTV in an email.

Barney, whose alleged rapist is awaiting trial, said when the school found out about her rape, they began an honor code investigation - likely because she had allowed the alleged rapist into her apartment.

Barney said Nasiru Seidu raped her in the bedroom of her off-campus apartment last fall. She reported the rape to Provo Police but Edwin Randolph, who is a Utah County Sheriff Deputy and a friend of Seidu, obtained the police report and gave it to the honor code office at BYU. The school then called Barney looking to investigate her conduct.

After Barney went public went public with her story, other victims did the same.

A petition, started by Barney, asked BYU to give rape victims immunity from honor code investigations and give them help instead. The petition has 114, 000 signatures from people all over the world. A group presented the petition to BYU's president after a small demonstration on campus.

RELATED: Thousands sign petition asking BYU to help rape victims, not investigate them

Follow Cristina Flores on Twitter @Cristina2News for breaking news, updates and more.

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