Nearly two months ago, By Common Consent posted a recap of a rape awareness meeting that took place at BYU where university administrators admitted that they investigate students who report rape for possible honor code violations. (“We do not apologize,” she said, for holding students to a particular standard.) The implication being that many assume women who are raped often participated in dangerous activities that placed them in that situation. The Salt Lake Tribune then performed some excellent reporting on BYU’s serious problem with rape reporting (see here, here, here, and here), based on the reports of brave BYU students who stepped forward. This is a serious issue not too dissimilar from what is taken place throughout American campuses, though with a unique spin given BYU’s honor code practice. There has been a lot of commentary on it–I’ve went on several twitter rants proclaiming my absolute disgust for this BYU practice regarding rape victims)–but we were still in need of a calm, sober, and far-reaching analysis telling us what this meant.
Kristine Haglund, former editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and one of Mormonism’s most adept analysts and writers, wrote such an analysis for the consistently-excellent magazine, Religion and Politics: “At BYU, A New Confrontation in the Campus Sexual Assaults Debate.” This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in Mormonism, conservative religious cultures, or rape policies at America’s universities.
The essay covers the differences and tensions between civil and religious law, the dangers of purity culture, the problems of cultural assumptions regarding gender and sexuality, and even the importance of including religious voices in national debates over Title IX. A highlight:
The beliefs that inform religious “purity culture” are not, in the end, so far removed from what is called “rape culture” in supposedly secular America. Confronting the ideas about virginity, modesty, and the varieties of male and female desire, made explicit in religious terms on some campuses, provides an opportunity to seriously examine similar lingering and often unspoken views that govern the expression of sexuality elsewhere.
Religious codes of conduct do not accomplish all of these goals any more than secular university policies and civil laws do—indeed, as the BYU example demonstrates, sometimes they get it dangerously, egregiously wrong. Nonetheless, believers who aspire to live demanding ideals are practiced in thinking about sex as a morally serious act. They should be at the table when we talk about how to help young people. Simply exempting religious colleges from the requirements of Title IX, and thereby excluding them from the discussion eliminates their potential contributions, and it also means that they do not hear salient and necessary criticisms of their policies. It is a loss for both sides.