I just want every sexual assault victim to know that it is not your fault and that every time they speak up for what has happened to them, they’re speaking up for all the women behind them.
A young woman, excited and nervous to start college, feels she has chosen one where she will feel safe. After all, they have an Honor Code.
Confidently, she signs it, just like every other student attending her chosen school has.
All is right in her world.
Until that safe world comes crashing down and she’s punished because an abuser from her past has turned her in for an Honor Code “violation.”
Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, speaks with the creator of the @honorcodestories Instagram account, about her heartbreaking experience as a double victim: a victim of her abuser, and then victim of the Brigham Young University Honor Code Office. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
What Is An “Honor Code”?
Many private universities require students to sign abide by an honor code: a contract between student and institution that the student will live according to morals dictated by the university leadership.
Failure to abide by the signed code of honor may result in university discipline, even expulsion, from the school.
When The Honor Code Office Harms Victims
@honorcodestories experienced abuse years before her attendance at BYU. The abuser called the university and reported her for honor code violations, which, in reality, were his coercive and abusive behaviors – not a lack of honor on her part.
The first time that I got called in, they told me a man from my past who had really hurt me had reported me. I had moved 2000 miles away and started school, so this was years behind me. I was terrified and I told her all of this.” -@honorcodestories
I was 18-19 years old, sitting across from this stranger that I didn’t know asking for help, asking her to protect me. She told me that it didn’t matter. That just felt sick. It really felt sick. I just didn’t understand why my school wouldn’t have my back. Especially as I told them what had happened in the past.
When abusers use honor codes, codes of ethics in the professional environment, or religious organizations to torment their victims, institutions should believe and protect the victims instead of enabling and abetting the abuser in harming the victim.
How Can Victims Heal From Institutional Abuse?
The immense double-betrayal of institutional abuse committed by universities, churches, and others can temporarily paralyze victims into silence.
However, as victims find the strength to share their stories, they are able to begin their journey to healing.
I think there’s validation in being able to share your story. Being able to say, ‘This is what happened.’
Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
When Others Deny and Minimize Abuse
Tragically, when authority figures, church leaders, family, friends, and therapists, minimize or deny the abuse, or blame the victims, victims are harmed and experience significant trauma.
Choosing to share your story, hold abusers accountable, and fearlessly tell the truth is courageous and necessary so that other victims can find the safety and healing that they deserve.
If others have treated your experience lightly, know that you are not alone. Know that what others say does not change what has happened to you, and does not change the incredible light and strength within you.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Institutional Abuse
Re-traumatized victims deserve validation, support, and compassion. Finding a safe community to tell your story to is essential to the healing process.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers victims a safe place to process trauma, express hard feelings, ask important questions, and form strong connections with other women. Join today and remember, you are not alone.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I’m excited to get to today’s guest, but before I do, I just want to give a shout out to Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, which is our daily online support group. It’s an amazing resource. There are multiple sessions a day in multiple time zones, so you never have to make an appointment, you never have to leave the house, and you never have to put makeup on. Any time you need support you can jump on and be with a network of supportive women.
Alright, now on to our guest today. She is the creator of the Instagram account @honorcodestories. I actually interviewed her when her Instagram account was blowing up over the summer of 2019, and after everything blew up there were some protests at BYU and there were some changes made.
@HonorCodeStories On The BTR Podcast
I have reached out to her to see if the changes that were made are working, and she said that, although there have been some changes, they still have a long way to go. She expressed gratitude for the changes that have taken place and hopes that the dialogue continues.
If you know how things have improved or gotten worse will you please leave a comment below? We want to hear your thoughts.
The reason I’m actually airing this is not necessarily to specifically look at BYU and the problems that they’ve had there with Honor Code, related to victims of abuse or victims of sexual assault, but it’s to highlight this misogynistic problem that all of society blames victims and refuses to protect them.
Misogynistic Institutions are Re-Traumatizing Victims
This is just one example of many examples that many of you have told me from many different colleges and many different types of churches. From a friend of mine who is Jewish to another friend of mine who is Catholic.
This is not something that only members of my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, struggle with. This happens across every religion, every college, every workplace. We see things of this type of misogyny and abuse being misunderstood all over.
Without further ado, here is the episode that I recorded back in the summer, when things were blowing up with @honorcodestories. I hope it does highlight why abuse is so complex and the fact that so many people lack education about abuse, so they make decisions that make it worse instead of stopping it.
“A Scarring Impression”
I have the creator of the Honor Code Stories Instagram account. She is a 2018 graduated from Brigham Young University. She was called into the Honor Code Office during both her freshman year of college and her senior year. Each experience left a scarring impression on her and left her feeling totally alone.
After receiving her diploma, she felt that she was in a safe position to turn to the internet and share her Honor Code Office experience. In just 2 weeks the account went from 50 followers to close to 38,000 followers, and over 1000 students and alumni have reached out to share their hurtful stories with her and her team.
So, welcome friend.
Friend: Hi, thank you.
Anne: Before we start, I wanted to share just a tiny experience. I received my Associates degree from BYUI back when it was called Ricks a million years ago, and the Honor Code was different back then because there was no internet.
How Does The Honor Code Office Re-Traumatize Victims?
Rules regarding the internet didn’t apply because it didn’t exist at that time, or if it did it was only as NASA, and I loved the Honor Code. It made me feel safe. For example, I felt so safe that my roommates were not allowed to have men in our apartment after 10. Is that what it is? I can’t even remember.
Friend: I think they bumped it up to midnight.
Anne: Awesome, so back then it was 10ish maybe. I don’t remember, but I loved the Honor Code and I really appreciated it. It helped keep me safe.
Starting with that and knowing that I don’t have any idea what the Honor Code even entails in 2019, because when I went it was 1995—a super long time ago. I just wanted to start with that and our listeners know that this is not an anti-Honor Code discussion. This will be a discussion about how the Honor Code is being implemented and perhaps in many ways how its harming victims of abuse or harming people.
Honor Code “Violations” Got Her Probation
Alright, so let’s jump into this. Friend, what led you to start the @honorcodestories account?
Friend: I had, like you mentioned, two run-ins with the Honor Code Office. One my freshman year and one my Senior year. Both times I was just left feeling very alone and like I had done something horrible.
I felt the same way as you. I chose to come to BYU because there were different standards than other Universities. I knew I was signing the Honor Code and I was ready to sign the Honor Code. I wanted to be in a safer environment, but I didn’t realize that meant you could be called into that office for anything and the office would emotionally abuse you.
After feeling like that my freshman year and keeping my mouth shut because I was a freshman and I was very embarrassed, felt totally ashamed, and alone. I had just gotten out to BYU and was absolutely not about to speak out against anything. I got put on probation for a year and kept quiet.
Honor Code “Violation” For Something She’d Taken Care Of Got Her Probation Again
Then, when they called me in again at the end of my senior year to put me back on probation, I felt like I was in a different place. As a senior, I felt like it was my responsibility to speak out against what was going on.
I had to wait until I got my diploma. I got my diploma in the Fall of 2018 and then started this account in January.
Initially, I started just because I wanted to see if there was anyone else out there who had felt the same way that I did. I knew I had a few close friends and a few close family members that had been through the Honor Code Office and had been treated just so poorly and had really been hurt by that office.
Honor Code Stories Takes Off
So, I gathered all our stories together, started this account and thought, “You know what, even if only five students run into this account, that’s five extra students who are able to realize that they’re not alone. That whatever happened to them in that office, they’re not the only ones that are being victimized by that office.”
Really, it was just kind of like a support system and I didn’t know if it would gain any attraction, but like I said, even if five people could see it and feel like they weren’t alone then that would have been good enough for me.
Anne: I think there’s validation, also, in being able to share your story. Being able to say, “This is what happened.” They may or may not agree with you, but, at least, you’re able to speak and be heard.
Speaking Out Helps Traumatized Victims Find Healing
Friend: Yeah, and I think that that’s so important. I know that you’re doing the same thing where just allowing people to have a platform to share their stories is healing for everyone.
It brings light to situations that people might not have been aware of but also for the individual who had to go through that experience. It’s so healing to be able to tell your story. There is something about being anonymous so that you still feel like you’re safe, but I totally agree with that.
Just being able to tell other people what happened to you and have other people say, “I am so sorry. I had no idea. I’m here for you.” I think that it really is very healing.
The Honor Code Office Didn’t Honor A Restraining Order
Anne: The first time you were called into the Honor Code Office, a perpetrator that you had a restraining order against was the one who turned you into the Honor Code Office. The second time, it was an ex-boyfriend. So, can you tell me how that felt?
Friend: Yeah, it was pretty hurtful. The first time that I got called in and had been told that I was called in by a man from my past who had really hurt me. It was really hurtful, and to sit on my counselor’s couch and tell her who this man is, how he made me feel, and how I was scared of him, and really just wanted to put everything that had happened in my past. I had moved 2000 miles away and started school, so this was years behind me. I was terrified and I told her all of this.
The Honor Code Office Uses Spiritual Abuse To Re-Traumatize Victims
I sat on her couch crying and said, “Please take my side. Please have my back. Here is the man that turned me in and here’s how he’s affected my life for years now, and I really need you to have my back. I don’t feel like what I’m being called in for is justified for being called in in the first place, but especially now that I’m sitting here telling you who it was that reported me. I really need your protection.”
She responded and said it didn’t matter how I got caught, what mattered was that the Holy Spirit wanted me to get caught.
“She Told Me That It Didn’t Matter”
As a freshman, you’re young, and I’d just got out to BYU, and I was already terrified to be in there and already felt from the moment I walked in that they weren’t on my side and they were sitting on the other side of the table, figuratively and literally. It was pretty discouraging.
I was 18-19 years old, sitting across from this stranger that I didn’t know asking for help, asking to please be protected, and she told me that it didn’t matter. That just felt sick. It really felt sick, and I just didn’t understand why my school wouldn’t have my back. Especially, as I told them what had happened in the past.
Honor Code Office Counselor Discounted Her Because Of His Leadership Position
Then, the second time, with the ex-boyfriend it was frustrating because I told her, “Look, I have not talked to this kid in over a year. It’s been months and months and months since we even had communication. I’m so sorry for what happened. I’ve already dealt with it with my Bishop. I don’t understand why he can come in and jeopardize my future and my education and my diploma.”
I really felt like she took his side and told me, “Well, he’s the one that came in and he came in on his own goodwill and you didn’t.” It was frustrating too because he was Elders Quorum President at the time.
Anne: Which, by the way, for our listeners who are not members of the Church, that is a calling within the Church that puts them in charge of the men’s organization.
The Honor Code Office Operates On Misogynistic Ideals
Friend: She brought that up, wanted to remind me of his position in the church, and she told me that the Spirit wasn’t in my home, so it was harder for both parties to keep the commandments. I was being turned in by an ex-boyfriend, which was already frustrating, but then to have his calling thrown in my face was pretty hurtful.
Anne: Also saying, “You both participated in this, but for some reason, he’s the better person and you’re a worse person,” which is not the case.
Friend: Right, but that’s definitely how I felt. I mean, she’s accusing me and asking me if I’m going to church and what my calling is and what my relationship is like with God, but she wanted to remind me of his position in the church and then put me in my place. Just for all those reasons it was just so hurtful.
The Honor Code Office Blames Victims
Anne: Let’s talk about what themes you have noticed, with all the thousands of stories that you have read.
Friend: I noticed a lot of people in the first place who just don’t even want to go talk to anyone about what happened, which is really scary. Another theme is that when they go into that office, they feel like it is their fault. I have had so many people say, “My counselor told me that this is because I did this. This is because I wore this. I said this.”
Anne: An example in my day, when it was 10 pm, would be, “It’s partially your fault that you were raped because you let him stay in your apartment longer than 10 pm.” That didn’t happen to me, but I’m just saying that would be an example.
“You Should Not Be Punished For Being A Victim”
There could have been sexual coercion going on and getting him out of your apartment might have been pretty difficult. There’re all these other elements with a perpetrator-victim situation that people don’t understand, and you should not be punished for being a victim.
Friend: On October 2016, they did try and separate the Title 9 Office and the Honor Code Office to try and keep victims as victims, and not be run into the ground for what happened.
Anne: That has been 3 years since that policy change. With the stories that have come out, have a lot of them been pre-2016 or have a lot of them been since?
Friend: Everything besides a sexual assault have, for the most part, been within the last year or two and then the sexual assault, a lot of students have sent in and said 2014 and 2015. I’ve had to say, “I’m so sorry for what happened and there is nothing that I can say that would make this any better, but unfortunately, we’re looking for stories after 2016, because those are when BYU claims that the office has changed.”
“The Policy Is Not What’s Being Practiced”
People are still not reporting because they’re still afraid that when they go in there somehow, they’ll get looped into the Honor Code Office, and in a lot of cases it still has.
It’s fine that BYU says that their policy has changed but it’s kind of the same thing with the Q&A that the new Honor Code Office Director, Kevin Utt, released, “Here’s our policy, I don’t know why people are saying that this is going on because here is our policy.” Unfortunately, the policy is not what’s being practiced.
Anne: We see that with bishops too. The policy is, “We have no tolerance for abuse in the Church.” Yet, victims go in and say, “My husband is using pornography, he is lying to me, he is having sex with other women,” whatever it is. It’s in the proclamation to the family. People who engage in infidelity and abuse will be held accountable.
Instead, a bishop might say, “Well, what are you doing wrong? How could you help the situation?” And focus more on her rather than saying, “Really? I might not be able to stop him from doing these things, but if I’m his bishop I’m going to hold him accountable in these ways,” rather than try to throw it back in the victim’s face.
The Honor Code Office Re-Traumatizes Victims When They Don’t Offer Support And Validation
Have you heard of any Honor Code stories where someone went in and they said, “Hey, this is what happened, somebody sexually assaulted me,” for example, or, “I feel unsafe because of this situation,” where the victim has actually felt safe? That they had a good experience going to the Honor Code Office?
Friend: I am not going to say that BYU doesn’t expel all their rapists, because they do. I do have stories where a woman went in and said, “Here’s who it is, here’s what he’s done”, and BYU has expelled them. Someone that I’m very close to has a story very similar to this.
“She Never Heard From The Honor Code office Again”
But even though they expelled the man, she felt like they were doing that because, “Okay, we have this rapist, let’s get him off-campus and that’s it. Let’s be quiet about it and on to the next case.” They never reached out to make sure she was okay. She never heard from the Honor Code Office again, and that’s another issue too.
If you are a woman and finally do have the courage to go tell BYU what’s going on and let’s say best case scenario, they do kick this student out of school. I can’t speak for the whole school in general, but a lot of these students are still saying, “They’re not there for me. They never reached back out to me. They never asked if I was okay. They never set me up with X, Y, Z.”
“I Want Them To Know That They Are Not Alone”
I know that there are a lot of really great counselors in the Title 9 office, and so students do have a few resources but for the most part they just don’t feel like the university, in general, has their back with this.
Anne: From your own experience and from reading all these stories that you have received, what would you want current students, who are sexual assault victims, to hear?
Friend: I would first want them to know that they are not alone. I don’t know how comforting that can be for everyone, but I know, at least for the people that I’ve talked with, just hearing that this isn’t just happening to them and there are other women out there who are feeling this way too and people that you can turn to and trust and share your story with is really important.
Also, we really do not want these stories to discourage students from turning in these kinds of cases. BYU does have a victim advocate that does a really good job, from what I’ve been told, at protecting students, but there are so many places off campus that you can go too.
Students Supporting Each Other On @honorcodestories
I just want every sexual assault victim to know that it is not your fault and that every time they speak up for what has happened to them, they’re speaking up for all the women behind them.
I just think it’s so important that we don’t lose faith, don’t lose courage. We absolutely think that BYU is going to look into their policies a little bit deeper and try and figure out what the root cause is here and try and change that. Until that happens, there are so many people on the outside who are waiting with open arms.
It’s been overwhelming and just so heartwarming to see even other female students who will comment on these posts saying, “DM me. If this is your story message me. I will take you out to lunch. I want to talk to you. I’m here for you. If you ever need anyone send me a message to this Instagram.”
I just want them to know that there really are people out there who care so much and love them and want them to be on campus with them.
The Honor Code Office Isn’t Protecting Victims
Anne: In prepping for this episode, I was talking to a friend and she is now divorced. Her ex-husband went to BYU-Idaho and he was actually kicked out of BYU-Idaho because he had sex when he was there, and it did not stop his behavior.
Then he sexually coerced her. They ended up having sex before they were married, which she felt terrible about, she did not realize that she had been sexually coerced. She thought she had agreed to it because she didn’t understand the sexual dynamic and the abuse dynamic that she was in.
Then when she finally set a boundary of separation and then finally filed for divorce, even that did not stop his behavior. I say that because I asked her, “Are you glad that he got kicked out of BYU-Idaho for having sex with other women?”
Not her because she didn’t know him at the time, but I thought it was really interesting, she said, “No, because it didn’t help him at all.” I said, “Well, would you have rather that he just got away with it? She said, “Well, no, because I wish that something would have helped him.”
The Honor Code Could Help Men Change
Either the wake-up call that you’re getting kicked out of BYU or the wake-up call that your wife is separating from you or the wake-up call that your wife is divorcing you because of your behavior. Even now that he’s divorced—he’s lost his wife and he’s lost his child—he’s still continuing in his abusive behaviors.
That’s one thing that I want to hear your thoughts on. The Honor Code Office should be designed to hold perpetrators of serious infractions—when I say serious, I mean infractions that are really harming other people—accountable and then also help victims. In this case, and in so many cases, the way that it’s happening did not help him.
I don’t think it’s their fault, so I’m not trying to blame it on BYU. What I told my friend was, “He had an opportunity for change. The crap had hit the fan and he had an opportunity to say: whoa, I’m getting kicked out. I need to change my behavior. He didn’t take it.” Then he got married and he had another opportunity to say, “Whoa, I need to repent and change my behavior.” He didn’t take one either. Then he got divorced. He still has not taken the opportunity to do that.
The Honor Code & Accountability
Part of me is thinking that if people can see, when they are held accountable for their behaviors, and if they can see this is an opportunity to grow, that’s one thing. The problem is, I see, at least in your case from what you’ve described to me, and by the way for our listeners, she has told me the details of what happened with her getting called in, there is nothing about your story that is a serious safety issue, for you or for other people.
In that case, holding you accountable is literally just nitpicking at you for no reason. I just thought it was interesting to have a conversation with her and saying, “Well, you know, it didn’t help him. He was held accountable, but he didn’t take the opportunity to change.”
Friend: Yeah, I think that it’s important, too, especially when you’re in college, they’re very formative years. You just left home for the first time and you’re being held accountable for a lot of things in a lot of different ways. I think the Honor Code Office could have a big play in that in a positive way I guess is what I’m saying.
“They’re Not Holding Students Accountable In The Right Way”
I think it’s pretty scary that you go into that office and they’re not holding students accountable in the right way. They’re not going about repentance in the right way. Not to say that what happened with this friend was BYU’s fault, but I think that BYU is in this unique position, and the Honor Code Office could be in a unique position too, where they are tied in with the school. They’re tied in with the Church.
They are housing these students for some of the most formative years of their life and they really are in a unique opportunity to teach students how the repentance process works and what consequences look like and hold you accountable while also still showing you the right path to go down.
I think that they really mess that up and it’s unfortunate because these students are leaving home and for a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever really done anything wrong is in college with all of this freedom. They need to be held accountable, but I think in a safe way and in a way that goes in line with what the Church teaches.
The Honor Code Office Should Be Supporting Victims, Not Enabling Abusers
I think, while it could be a really positive force for light—BYU’s mission is “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve,” and I feel like so many parts of BYU do that really well but one of the most important, the Honor Code Office, is really messing that up.
Anne: We see that throughout the leadership. I believe that the Church policies, at least about abuse, for example, are really solid. They don’t want to tolerate abuse, but the way that it’s interpreted by each individual or implemented is not consistent, first of all, and then, secondly, so many people say, “Well, I don’t believe you, a bishop would never do that.” We’re saying, “They did, they did do that, and it happens all the time.” It’s very common and it’s very harmful to victims. I think this discussion is really important.
Somebody said to me recently, “I would have more respect for you if you didn’t disparage bishops. I wanted to say, “I don’t want to disparage bishops in any way. We want to educate people about what is happening so that we can make a positive change. So that we can keep victims safe and so we can hold perpetrators accountable. The reason why we want to hold perpetrators accountable is that we love them, and we want to help them change.”
The Honor Code Office Harms Women And Children When They Refuse To Hold Abusers Accountable
It would have been the most amazing story in the world if my friend’s ex-husband would have said, “The Honor Code Office held me accountable and I realized that my behaviors were harmful, and I changed. I’m so grateful for that experience because it gave me the opportunity to be a safe person for my wife and child.” That would have been the best-case scenario that could have come out of that story, and instead, you’ve got, five years later, a divorce on your hands.
Any other final thoughts?
Friend: I think that I’m always trying to end conversations with, “Look, we love the Church and we love the school. We don’t want to leave. These students know what they signed, and they want to be held to what they signed. We’re not here to fight the standards that are on campus. We’re not here to fight the standards that the Church upholds. We really are just looking for protection for our students within that Honor Code Office.” I just want to make it clear how much we do love our school and we do love the Church, but the office—something has to change.
“An Ongoing, Layered Conversation… To Make Meaningful Change”
Anne: I love talking with you because I feel like we’re kindred spirits. I have a testimony of the Church. I love it dearly, and my goal would be to raise everyone to a higher standard of righteousness and peace, rather than creating more chaos and more harm.
Thank you, Friend, for coming on. I’m so grateful for you sharing your story and grateful for anyone who is willing to have an ongoing layered conversation about these topics. They’re really important. Someone said to me, “Well, she already has so many followers, why would you put her on the podcast?” I said, “Well, it’s not like we just talk about this issue once and then it goes away.” It has to be an ongoing layered conversation in order to make meaningful change.
Friend: Right, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. It was so good to talk to you. I would love to meet you in person one day. I have really enjoyed our conversations.
Call For Stories: Honor Code And Other Policies Endangering Victims
Anne: We want to hear your thoughts about this issue. Please leave a comment below.
Those of you from different religions or have had different experiences, I’d love to hear your stories about how some element of your church, or your college has put victims in more danger.
If you are looking for support, please check out all of the BTR resources for victims.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is an incredible resource. We can help you immediately. You won’t have to explain what’s going on. In fact, we can help you understand what’s happening to you.
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Until next week, stay safe out there.
The bishops DISPARAGED themselves. Anne Blythe is bringing the hidden abuse to light. Thank you AnnE, don’t ever stop your saving efforts; just continue to ignore these counter-encouragements from the supposed ‘comforters.’