Students protest sexual assault on college campus
Victims of sexual assault are receiving little support from officials at religious universities, and some are even being punished for reporting it.

Sexual assault has become an increasingly important issue on college campuses over the past decade. Across the board, cases of sexual assault are on the rise. Most universities take reported crimes very seriously and perform full investigations. Unfortunately, some don't. The most recent scandal to gain attention involves Ken Starr, the famous prosecutor in the Monica Lewinsky case. He was fired as President of Baylor University for his inexcusably poor handling of a string of sexual assaults involving student athletes.

During Starr's time as president, officials at Baylor received numerous reports of sexual abuse by football players from 2009-2016, six female students reported being raped or sexually assaulted. Astoundingly, not only did school officials decline to investigate these crimes, they actively discouraged the reporting of such events. Ken Starr of course claimed he knew nothing about the reports, but graciously accepted responsibility and agreed to "go down with the ship" anyway.

Religious Aspects

Here's where things get interesting: Baylor is a Baptist school. In fact, it's the largest Baptist university in the United States. Consequently, the university has specific rules which forbid premarital sex among students. While they may have righteous intentions, these rules are highly problematic. First of all, college students are notorious for breaking rules and experimenting sexually. That is just the reality. The students know it, the teachers know it, and school officials know it. Because of this, religious universities like Baylor seem to abide by a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding student sex. But what about cases when university officials need to be told, such as incidents of rape or sexual assault? Well, oftentimes victims choose not to tell the school because they are afraid of facing punishment. Thanks to religious rules against student sex, sexual assaults are consistently under-reported. However, the issues at Baylor pale in comparison to those at Mormon-run Brigham Young University.


Some astonishing facts recently came to light about BYU, which has even stricter rules than Baylor against premarital sex. Over a dozen students have come forward saying that they were investigated, and in some cases even disciplined, after reporting sex crimes to school officials. One rape victim, realizing that BYU officials were unlikely to help her, decided to go straight to city police (unaffiliated with the school) and file a detailed report. After her attacker was arrested, a BYU campus police officer somehow gained access to the police report, and proceeded to pass it on to school officials. A few days later, the rape victim was told she was under investigation for violating school policy regarding premarital sex. The grossly twisted logic of school officials provoked an outcry from the community, and a state investigation is now underway. However, it remains to be seen if BYU will be forced to reform its troublesome policies.

Disturbing Pattern

These cases point to an startling pattern: religious universities such as Baylor and BYUChalk message decrying victim-blaming are so concerned with policing their students' private lives, that they've turned a blind eye to their safety.

School officials argue that if everyone simply followed the rules against premarital sex, then sexual assault would never happen. However, this mentality ignores basic human nature. Assuming that an "honor code" will successfully prevent sexual assault is about as naïve as assuming that a law against doing drugs will prevent people from overdosing. There is a reason prohibition has never been a successful tactic.


A quick review: by enforcing strict rules against sex, religious universities actively discourage the reporting of serious sexual crimes. Not only that, but the few cases that are reported are rarely fully investigated, allowing attackers to get away without punishment. To add insult to injury, the victims brave enough to file reports are often disciplined for admitting that they were attacked. Is that justice?

While people may disagree over the morality of premarital sex, that's not the issue here. The issue is victims of sexual assault being discouraged from reporting it to school officials, and then getting penalized for doing so. There has got to be a better way. What do you think? How should religious universities handle cases of sexual assault? Should they even have the right to police students' bedrooms in the first place?


  1. Steve W.'s Avatar Steve W.

    How should religious universities handle cases of sexual assault? Universities, religious or secular, shouldn't. Sexual assault is a crime, subject to criminal penalties, and should be "handled" by law enforcement authorities, prosecutors, and the judicial system. Most universities are ill suited to investigate, prosecute, or judge the crime -- by both a lack of competency, and their competing self-interest. Universities are neither law enforcement nor "in loco parentis" entities, IMHO. Victims, PLEASE call local law enforcement (911), not the university police.

    1. Tom's Avatar Tom

      Absolutely right! The fox cannot guard the henhouse! Call the police!

    2. Rev Dodd's Avatar Rev Dodd

      Steve, As a Sexual Assault Advocate, I tell college students to go to the nearest hospital, call the police on the way and on arrival to the hospital ask the nurse to call the local rape crisis center, an Advocate will come stay with you, explain your options, give you follow up information, can provide you with emotional support during the exam and police interview, as well as provide you with hygiene products to clean up after and clean clothes for you to wear home. Sexual Assault causes more brain trauma than physical trauma, so it is important to realize victims will react differently and my not be able to recall facts. Sexual assault affects anyone, youn, old, male, female, straight, lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, transgender, questioning, or prostitutes. If it is without your consent, it is rape. If you are unable to give consent, it is rape. A university report can be made latter, but police and hospital should Always be first contacts.

  1. Gallet Christ Sampu's Avatar Gallet Christ Sampu

    Have a faith and hope May God bless all of you. I will share with you god news as soon as the opportunity is given in a proper way.

  1. Randy's Avatar Randy

    The problem here isn't the rules against premarital sex, it's the culture of protecting star football players from any adverse consequences for their actions. School officials don't care if the students screw each others brains out as long as they're discreet. They do, however, care about the funding they receive for a top notch football team. Anything that threatens that revenue stream must be dealt with quickly. This isn't a problem confined to the nation's universities, it starts in High School. Star players are shielded from anything that will affect their ability to play. Bad grades? No problem, we'll change them. Arrested for any reason? No problem, we'll make the charges disappear. These institutions don't worship the Almighty, they worship the Almighty Dollar. Sadly, no mere student will ever be allowed to stand in the way of their pursuit of that Golden Calf.

    1. Steve W.'s Avatar Steve W.

      Well said, Randy. It starts in High School (maybe even sooner these days) and extends through professional sports at the highest level. I recently read something to the effect that in 40 of 50 states the highest paid public employee is either a football or basketball coach at a state university. Of course they win and bring in big money; as one coach put it "You never saw anyone pay to watch a chemistry class." Looks like a systemic failure with big unintended consequences. Like forgiven sexual assault, for example.

    2. clay's Avatar clay

      That was beautifully well said of a very deep pool that has formed... -bless

  1. Rev. Brien's Avatar Rev. Brien

    Assault, ANY assault is a crime. Please, if you are a victim of this type of crime, you MUST report it to the POLICE. You have been hurt in a most horrible way and what was done to you MUST NOT be allowed to continue. You can be helped, but ONLY if you reach out. The police WILL help you. You are not alone. You are not to blame. You are NOT shamed. Go to the POLICE.

  1. HeidiAnne Leon's Avatar HeidiAnne Leon

    When a person female or male is forced against her or his will, It is rape. It isn't premarital sex. It is about power. I think the colleges, should focus less on the premarital sex lives of their students, and focus on their safety instead.

  1. Tom's Avatar Tom

    Perhaps I live in another world. When I was young (don't we all hate that opening?) parents were held responsible for the behaviors of their minor children. They were accountable financially and in every other way for the improper actions of their children. We have gotten away from this in recent generations. We know how to make babies, but lack the will to raise them. We quickly abdicate our parental responsibility when we send children off to school and hold the school responsible for raising them. Then, we blame the school if something goes wrong. Yes, it is a difficult job to raise a child. Nevertheless, when you create that life, you are responsible for that life until the age of majority. Perhaps we need to think about legislation to that affect. If your child errs, the child should be punished. So should the parent. A long hard look should be given to that home and any other children in that home. Are they at risk because their parents are not taking their responsibility seriously? Are they being well served by staying in that home? How can we make people more accountable for the actions of their children? I realize this opens a big can of worms, but we need to have this discussion. It is too easy to make a baby! Children do not come with owner's manuals. They do come with a birthright. That birthright includes food, clothing and shelter; no child can provide those things for themselves. It also includes an education, sufficient for the child to provide their own food, clothing and shelter. It also includes freedom; the freedom to grow and develop into a unique human being and member of the community. This freedom includes such a thing as personal responsibility and it needs to be taught and enforced. We need an atmosphere that does not blame schools, employers, previous generations, or anyone other than ourselves for our own actions and the actions of our minor children. Am I on the right track here? We need to talk about this!

    1. Mary Hollinrake's Avatar Mary Hollinrake

      My brother and I were well-behaved, straight A students, involved in the community, and were granted scholarships to college. Our sister, however, was dealing with bi-polar disorder and flunked out of school, stole cars, assaulted people and vandalized property. We were all raised well by the same two parents but good parenting does not always mean good kids; kids are their own people and can learn behaviors from many sources other than parents. CPS continually threatened to take my brother and me away from the home where we were with our loving parents and were thriving and wanted to throw us in the foster care system. This sounds just like what you propose: assume that ALL bad behavior stems from bad parenting and punish the parents. Your ideas and those of CPS regarding my family when I was young I find wildly ignorant and can cause much more harm than good. I know I wouldn't be the well-adjusted person I am today with a good job, productive life, and loving family and friends if the powers that be think the way that you do.

      Also most college students are actually adults, not children. So in a majority of these cases your proposal wouldn't solve a darn thing. If a school punished the person who was raped, they should absolutely be held accountable. These victims are not blaming the school just for the heck of it or because they were given a B instead of an A. The school legitimately did something wrong. It's odd to me how eager you are to assume that parents are always to blame and institutions that actually cause harm shouldn't be blamed for it. Very backwards.

      1. Tom's Avatar Tom

        Not that your parents did not try, but their higher level of responsibility should have kicked in long before CPS had to be brought into the situation. There are a lot of resources for parents with troubled children. It is not a failure on the part of the parent to seek out those services and avail themselves of them. Schools are not perfect, having been a teacher I can attest to that, but I will always remember what a college professor taught us. "What you know today about right and wrong you learned before the age of five. If those years were poorly administered, the results will not be hard to see."

        1. Jill Joiner's Avatar Jill Joiner

          As someone who worked with families in crisis through several non-profits the resources just are NOT there period. Or waiting lists as long as your arm. Or here is one that stinks and is wrong. Oh your getting help from agency X. We at agency Y can't help since our funding comes from the same source. Even though agency Y has a program or component different agency X.

      2. Hank's Avatar Hank

        CPS by whatever its name/acronym in your state is paid a bonus for every child they take away from her/his parents. When children are put into the foster "care" CPS gets more money, dollars they don't have to beg the state legislature for. There are foster parents who have had their own children taken by CPS and placed with others. It's all about $$. CPS "loses" children. Children are molested, raped, used in crime, prostituted, etc. I have a book by a former CPS kidnapper. She writes that if she and her children ever came to the attention of CPS, she and they would be gone by nightfall. I say that she underestimates the danger. Anyone attacked by CPS should be heading for the state line with their children in 20 minutes! Negotiations are much easier when they don't have your children and don't know where they - and you - are.

  1. Steve W.'s Avatar Steve W.

    Hard to argue with your general proposition that to some level, parents are responsible for the actions of their children. That said, our society and culture bear some responsibility as well. So the points of argument are: what aspects of children's behavior are attributable to parents; and at what age are children accountable regardless of influence?

  1. Brother John's Avatar Brother John

    I wasn't able to find much documentation comparing sexual assault statistics between secular and religious schools. Here are a few reasons why sexual assault is a serious problem in both religious universities as well as the churches.

    A patriarchal worldview. The offenders as well as the majority of administrators and enforcement officials are males (this certainly applies to churches). Female victims, already overwhelmed by trauma, guilt, shame and more, are forced to deal principally with males should they decide report their attackers and pursue prosecution. This is principally why most rapes go unreported.

    A feeling of divine empowerment (“I can do anything; God is with me”). Frighteningly this may apply to many of the offenders, and certainly to officials, drunk on their own positions of power and authority. The Bible is very clear about the submission of females to males. Rape is usually more about power and control than it is about sex.

    Sexual repression. A huge factor in my book. Vows of celibacy, punishment for sinning and strict rules do not override human emotions and hormones. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter.

    The belief that forgiveness is but a confession or a prayer away. Wouldn't the devout male offenders and school administrators believe the sin of rape would be forgiven along with all the others?

    Access to children who accept authority and expect instruction. Don't most of the senior administrators of religious universities have strong ties to their respective religions, with some being ordained clerics? For example, here's the replacement for the now disgraced Ken Starr… Dr. David E. Garland accepted the appointment as Baylor University interim president on May 26, 2016, and began his service on June 1, 2016. Garland is professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Garland is professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Before joining the Truett faculty, Dr. Garland served as The Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of New Testament and chair of the Biblical Division at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he taught for 21 years.

    The illogical nature of faith, which, to a child, perhaps makes sexual requests no more bizarre or suspect than baptisms or religious circumcisions, or any number of other out-there rituals (like "drinking blood" and "eating flesh"). Although the students involved are no longer "children", most parents continue to use the term "my kids", regardless of their age.

    The unquestioning trust of the flock in its clergy. This would also apply to the administration of religious universities, most of whom have religious, as well as, academic credentials.

    Congregants’ aversion to learning the distasteful truth about a religious figurehead or institution. Another huge factor. Neither the parents of the students, and particularly not the administrators, donors and alumni of Christian schools, want any scandals to become public. This is particularly so when they believe themselves to be morally superior to the schools of "non-believers".

    The attendant reluctance to go to the police / press charges / start a scandal (“Our church also does so much good”). Most rapes go unreported in the general population. It's a far greater factor when guilt from religious dogma and programmed respect for religious authority is also involved.

    1. Tom's Avatar Tom

      Beautifully said. Thank you!

    2. Hank's Avatar Hank

      Repeating the "blame the patriarchy" chant does no one any good. Whatever protection women get is provided by the patriarchy. Women do not rule the world. They never have. Whatever rights they think they have are mere privileges granted at the discretion of an indulgent patriarchy. These "rights" may be amended or repealed at the pleasure of the patriarchy. The highest and mightiest woman can be taken and impregnated (if she is fertile) by the meanest common laborer if the situation goes all wrong for her. The queen of England is surrounded by armed MEN. A Boadicea, Warrior Princess, upon defeat and capture is taken and raped by her captor as a war trophy. Women have to deal with men. Women are subordinated by nature/biology to men. Any choice they have is at the indulgence of men, the "patriarchy." Women, spend your lives beating your fists against the male chest or do what you can to get along with him.

  1. Hank's Avatar Hank

    Going to the police is not without its danger. A common comment by raped/molested women is similar to: "If I had it to do over, I'd never have reported it. My rape lasted 20 minutes. Prosecuting him was like being raped for two years." So don't push a raped girl/woman too hard to try to get her raper prosecuted. My sister was raped. She reported it. The rapist was arrested, prosecuted and taken to trial. His lawyer made her out to be hardly more than a common harlot. He used the fact that she had children to prove that she was sexually experienced. The rapist was acquitted. For her, the prosecution was far worse than the rape. Consider the personality of a rape victim as to whether she has the fortitude to go through an investigation and prosecution, and to withstand the possible dismissal or acquittal of her rapist. More common today is for a rapist to sue his victim for accusing him if the prosecutor declines to prosecute or if a prosecution fails. He may not win, but being sued may just be like being raped all over again. A relatively recent tactic is for a rapist to file a complaint, alleging that his victim was the aggressor, that she wasn't drunk, and that he was, making her out to have raped (from a legal standpoint) him.

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