A prominent Provo, Utah, police official has spoken out to PEOPLE against Brigham Young University’s practice of opening “honor code” investigations into students who have reported being sexually assaulted, claiming the practice inhibits victims from coming forward.
Controversy over the practice erupted last month when 20-year-old student Madi Barney filed a Title IX complaint against the Provo school. Barney, who has agreed to be named in other media outlets, claimed that after she reported being allegedly sexually assaulted, the predominantly Mormon school barred her from registering for classes for the upcoming semester until it completes an investigation into whether she may have violated the school’s famously strict “honor code,” which bans premarital sex, alcohol and drugs.
“Obviously I don’t agree with the honor code. It is absolutely one of those things that are keeping victims from coming forward and getting the help that they need,” Kortney Hughes, Victim Services Coordinator of the Provo Police Department, tells PEOPLE.
Hughes says she would like to see an amnesty clause that would give immunity from honor code investigations to people who report sexual violence.
“We want people to feel safe reporting and we want them to access the resources that are available to them,” Hughes says.
“I’m definitely speaking out on behalf of the victims and all the victims that haven’t come forward,” she adds.
BYU has launched a review of the practice, according to a statement to PEOPLE by school spokesman Todd Hollingshead.
In his statement, Hollingshead writes, “The victim of a sexual assault will never be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault. A report of sexual assault would always be rererred to the BYU Title IX Office – not to the Honor Code office.”
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Last week, dozens of BYU students, alumni and supporters gathered at the campus entrance to protest the policy.
Supporters of Barney submitted petition signatures from an online petition created by Barney calling for BYU to implement an immunity clause in the honor code. The petition has garnered nearly 113,000 signatures and reads, in part, “I was raped, and I waited four days to report because I was so terrified about my standing at BYU.”
Nasiru Seidu, 39, has been charged in Barney’s rape, a Provo police spokesperson tells PEOPLE. A spokesperson for the Utah County District Attorney’s office tells PEOPLE that Seidu hasn’t yet entered a plea and is scheduled for competency hearing. PEOPLE’s calls to Seidu’s attorney, Matthew Morrise, were not returned as of press time.