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Utah Police Reviewing BYU’s Handling of Sexual Assault Cases

SALT LAKE CITY ― Utah’s Department of Public Safety has launched an investigation into whether Brigham Young University’s police department is appropriately sharing sexual assault case information.

BYU’s police department asked for the investigation so that an external party could examine whether it is correctly sharing these reports with other departments in the school and county, said Marissa Villasenor, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety.

The fact-finding investigation was initiated on Tuesday and follows the barrage of recent complaints over the school’s practice of opening honor code investigations into students after they report being sexually assaulted.

All BYU students must agree to abide by the honor code and violators can be expelled or otherwise punished. The code, which was created by students in 1949, prohibits such things as “sexual misconduct,” or “obscene or indecent conduct or expressions.” As it is currently written, reporting students could also be investigated for how much sexual contact they consented to before the assault.

The broad investigation stems in part from such recent incidents as the handling of information related to Madi Barney’s sexual assault case, Villasenor said. The BYU student said she was sexually assaulted and then told that she is being investigated by the honor code after a copy of her confidential police report was handed over to her school.

The Associated Press doesn’t normally identify possible victims of sex crimes, but Barney has said she wants her name to be used so she can help change the policy.

“This invitation is part of BYU’s broader efforts to study and improve the university’s sexual assault reporting process,” BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said in an email.

Steven Messick, a spokesman for BYU’s police department, said there was no specific incident that prompted the investigation. The investigation is meant to make sure police are doing what they should be when it comes to sexual assault cases, he said in an email.

A few weeks ago, BYU created an advisory council to examine its sexual assault policies. The group is made up of a handful of faculty members, including nursing professor Julie Valentine.

While the advisory council didn’t initiate the investigation, Valentine said she thinks it’s a good addition to the work the committee is already doing. It makes sense that the Department of Public Safety is conducting the review, as it has recently become more involved in statewide efforts to revamp sexual assault investigations, she said.

Villasenor said they don’t know yet when the investigation will be completed.

“Right now it’s just a fact-finding investigation and we are in the assessment phase,” she said. “That will determine where we go from here.”

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