Sexual Assault DOVE center BYU rapeBy Annie Fuller, for DOVE Center

Despite a jam-packed auditorium at Salt Lake City’s Leonardo Museum last June, the room was silent as Brigham Young University student Madi Barney recounted her rape and subsequent BYU Honor Code investigation from the fall of 2015. The silence was not fearful but respectful as Barney recounted how she was raped by an acquaintance, a man she said she thought she knew.

Sexual Assault DOVE center BYU rapeI gripped my husband’s hand in the seat next to me. I had put the town hall on our calendar, but it was my husband who was adamant that we attend the event on a Thursday evening after work. His insistence had surprised me at first. While my husband had always supported my efforts as an advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, he had never made it his personal crusade. In fact, when we first met, he would repeat many of the common myths we hear about rape: “The best way to protect yourself against rape is to not go to college parties” or “Girls need to know how to protect themselves.” As is so often the case with these statements, my husband was not blatantly berating a victim of rape, but his remarks always implied that the person responsible for rape or a sexual assault is the victim. Rather, as Barney confidently confirmed at the forum, “What causes rape is the rapist,” a declaration followed by loud applause from the audience.

Sexual Assault DOVE center BYU rapeWhile the rapist is the only one who is responsible for a rape — or for stopping the rape — the four-person panel touched on how many different groups can help stop rape and assault. The event was organized by The Salt Lake Tribune and featured one of its own public safety writers, Erin Alberty. Alberty was one of the contributing reporters on Madi Barney’s initial story back in April when Barney spoke out against the BYU practice of investigating assault victims for honor code violations. Alberty’s journalistic investigations have helped open a public discussion about BYU’s Honor Code policy, eventually prompting the school to seek out feedback on improvements it could make to its current practice.

As a public safety journalist, Alberty has not been afraid to examine the role that institutions, such as BYU and local and state law enforcement, play in a rape investigation. And as institutions change policies and procedures, students need no longer fear being kicked out of school for being raped, congregation members need no longer dread judgment from leaders when recounting assault, and victims need no longer worry that their communities will side with an assailant. In this sense, institutions can help stop rape by recognizing a victim’s innocence and an assailant’s culpability.

Sexual Assault DOVE center BYU rapeInstitutions are just one piece of the puzzle. On the Leonardo Museum stage between Alberty and Barney sat attorney Steve Evans, co-founder of the Mormon blog “By Common Consent,” and Jodi Peterson, a sexual assault victim advocate for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA). Evans identified himself as an active member of the LDS Church who uses his platform as a blogger to keep the discussion going. While the Tribune forum didn’t have time to dive deeper into discussions of men and rape (a topic difficult to discuss at BYU) or how race, culture, and sexuality can also “inform how rape is committed, how rapists are shielded, and how rape victims are penalized,” Evans dove head-on into the discussion in a follow-up post on his blog. The ongoing discussion gave more room for parties to discuss and understand the issue from new perspectives, guiding some to even change their views. In that sense, public discussion can discourage assault.

Rape and assault can be discouraged in our own homes and schools through better education. Jodi Peterson spoke on how lack of sexual education in the state of Utah contributes to misunderstanding of consent, sex, rape, and assault. For example, Peterson mentioned how “young women … are taught how to protect [themselves] from being raped,” referring to how many self-defense classes and common rhetoric suggest that a rapist is most likely a man hiding in a dark alleyway. But the education needs to change. The rapist is not a “bogeyman,” said Peterson; he is more likely to be the “cute boy from chem class.”

Sexual Assault DOVE center BYU rapeMy husband and I have been discussing the subjects of assault and rape for over two years now and how we want to educate the next generation, and my husband’s view has changed. Upon learning that the vast majority of rapes are committed by an assailant known to the victim, my husband has recognized that a would-be victim can never guess what might be a dangerous situation. And rather than teaching someone to spend hours worrying if any possible social encounter could lead to rape, my husband and I have decided our time is best spent in explaining the concept of consent: that no one has a right — not a date, not a star school athlete, not a trusted friend — to forcibly take something that is not given freely with enthusiastic consent. And, starting with ourselves, we hope to be everyday advocates and stand by institutions who change policies, by moderators who promote public discussion, by parents and schools who teach consent, and above all by survivors who speak out.

If you have experienced rape or sexual assault, DOVE Center advocates can help. Please call our 24-hour helpline to set up an appointment or for additional resources at (435) 628-0458.

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