This is a guest post by Michael Davidson.
Madi Barney, who up until recently was a BYU student, was completely unknown to me until last month. It was then that she publicly announced that she had been raped and proclaimed that BYU was punishing her for this. News headlines from around the world proclaimed: “Student: BYU used Honor Code to punish me for getting raped” (CBS News); “Brigham Young Students Say University’s Honor Code Made Them Afraid to Report Sexual Assaults” (ABC News); “BYU erupts in protest as student is suspended for violating the school’s honor code by ‘reporting rape to local police’” Daily Mail (UK); and “BYU Punished a Rape Victim for Breaking Their ‘Honor Code,’ Student Claims.” (Vice.com) However, none of this rung true to me and I just knew that there was more to this story than was being reported.
Below, I am going to endeavor to cut through the spin and fog of political correctness to set forth the facts as they have been reported in the local and national media. I am doing this because the media generally has either decided to ignore the facts, or has been too lazy to get to the bottom of the story. Instead, they are content to spend their collective time advocating for amendment of the Honor Code at BYU. The result of this is that no one is looking critically at Madi Barney or questioning the veracity of her claims. This allows the media to tell a simple story, that Madi Barney is being punished for being a rape victim. But, a fair reading of the facts does not support this conclusion. This is why the facts have been so hard to come by … because the facts simply go against the narrative and lead reasonable minds to conclude that Ms. Barney was violating the Honor Code well before her alleged rape.
According to this report in the Daily Herald on Tuesday, September 29, 2015, an unnamed 19-year old woman accused Nasiru Seidu of rape. Based on the subsequent reporting, the 19-year old woman is no doubt Madi Barney. According to this newspaper account, which cited to police reports, on Friday, September 25, 2015, Ms. Barney and Mr. Seidu were engaged in “sexual activities,” but “at some point, [Ms. Barney] told Seidu she didn’t feel comfortable and she wanted to stop.” At this point, Ms. Barney “began to get dressed.” Ms. Barney then alleges that Seidu “pushed her onto the bed and continued to have sex with her.” Emphasis added. Ms. Barney reports that she screamed and said no, but that Seidu continued, which is what constituted the alleged rape. The news report indicates that Seidu admitted having sex with Ms. Barney, but that he stopped when she asked him to do so.
It is interesting to note that NONE of the news media that have been covering Ms. Barney in April and May have ever mentioned any of this, including the Daily Herald which produced the report mentioned in the previous paragraph. The Salt Lake Tribune, which has literally published more than a dozen articles on this topic, has not mentioned this at all. I know that I must be expecting too much, especially considering that when I googled “Nasiru Seidu” this morning the Daily Herald report quoted above was all the way down at fourth place in the first page of search results. You can’t expect professional journalists to do that kind of digging. Instead, in various reports, Ms. Barney denies that she never even invited Seidu into her bedroom on the evening of September 25, 2015, recognizing that this would have been a violation of the Honor Code. Unfortunately, this is contradicted by the reported facts.
Ms. Barney has been reported in many places as saying that she initially didn’t want to report the alleged rape because she feared getting in trouble with the honor code. However, she has never said which of her actions made her fear honor code repercussions, and apparently none of the hundreds of papers, tv stations and websites that have covered her story have bothered to ask this question. This leaves readers to assume that merely being raped was enough to warrant honor code sanctions. The Daily Mail (UK) reports that Ms. Barney didn’t decide to report the alleged rape until she learned that Seidu “had lied about his identity.” However, recent reporting by the Salt Lake Tribune shows that Edwin Randolph (who is one of the few people that has seen the police report) has alleged that Ms. Barney only reported the alleged rape “after she discovered Seidu had lied about his age and about being married, and that her roommates had threatened to turn her in to the Honor Code Office.” Emphasis added.
While it took us a while to figure out how to find police records online – by the time we did, the actual police report has not, as yet, been made public. I do note that the several people who have had access to it have said little about its contents. Barney has said nothing about the contents of the report, so far as I can find. In quotes provided by Ms. Barney, officials from BYU told her that items in the police report suggested that she had “engaged in behavior that violates the BYU Honor Code.”
In her online petition, which was posted in April 2016, Ms. Barney asserts “when I sought out resources from BYU, the Title IX coordinator told me that there wasn’t enough proof of the assault to grant me those resources.” However, various published reports indicate that Ms. Barney didn’t approach anyone at BYU about the alleged rape and “a woman in the school’s administration” contacted her “out of the blue,” in December, after a copy of the police report had been delivered to BYU. According to the ABC News report, Ms. Barney told this woman, “I don’t recall breaking the honor code,” and was told at that point that BYU had a copy of the police report. Clearly, the police report included details that were of a damning nature, and based on the newspaper report from September this is not at all surprising.
Sometime thereafter, Ms. Barney got a letter from the Honor Code Office which invited her to come to the office to resolve this matter, and which informed her that she would not be able to register for new classes until she did so. Ms. Barney refused to talk to the Honor Code Office. She says that this was on advice from the prosecuting attorney in Seidu’s rape prosecution. This prosecutor went to the press to complain about BYU, only to have his boss contradict him publicly later the same day and to tell him to stop speaking to the press.
Ms. Barney has never responded publicly to the obvious question of whether or not she violated the Honor Code in the events leading up to her alleged rape. The fact that she thinks that she should have amnesty answers this question, though. The stated point of Ms. Barney’s petition is her demand “that BYU amends their practices and create an immunity clause so that victims can come forward without fear of retribution.” Ms. Barney argues that people who are allegedly raped or assaulted while breaking the Honor Code to have complete amnesty from any Honor Code repercussions.
In conclusion, all of the reporting on Ms. Barney’s situation has been, at best, lazy. Rather, it’s more likely that the various news outlets have ignored the inconvenient truth that Madi Barney was breaking the Honor Code’s prohibition on engaging in undressed sexual relations before she even alleged that a rape had occurred. The actual facts that were originally reported last September and which have been presumably included in the police report clearly justify her removal from BYU. In the law, we often talk about bad cases making bad law. The same principle applies here. If you are looking to reform the honor code process at BYU, pick a poster child that hasn’t engaged in activities that justify her expulsion.