The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault has voiced its support for Brigham Young University’s new Title IX director, deputy Title IX coordinator and victim advocate.
The decision comes on the heels of a letter from sexual assault survivors that was sent to BYU’s President Kevin Worthen following the announcement that Tiffany Turley will be the university’s new Title IX coordinator and Lisa Leavitt will be a victim advocate.
Posted Friday, the UCASA statement states that Leavitt, a member of the Utah County Sexual Assault Response Team, and Turley, who has been trained through UCASA’s 40 Hour Rape Advocate Certificate course, have shown a commitment to aiding sexual assault survivors.
“We understand that victim advocacy at any institution does not exist in a vacuum and in many ways the success of any advocacy program depends on the level of engagement that the local community has committed,” the statement reads. “We will support Ms. Turley and Ms. Leavitt as they begin their new positions.”
The statement said that concerns raised in the letter to Worthen have either already been or are being improved.
“We believe that there still remains critical work to be done,” the UCASA statement reads. “This work includes the official adoption of a defined policy providing safety and amnesty from honor code violations. We acknowledge that significant progress has been made at the University … We applaud the concrete actions that Brigham Young University has made toward improving the response to sexual violence on campus.”
The letter to Worthen, signed by 31 people, states that they have “grave concerns” about the hirings, which include that Turley and Leavitt were BYU employees before being appointed to the Title IX Office.
“It is vital to make sure that external voices contribute to organizational change,” the letter reads. “Hiring from within is not only a missed opportunity to bring in new ideas and attitudes that could affect real change at BYU, also runs the risk that said persons will be seen by survivors as being loyal to the university’s interests rather than to the victims they serve.”
The letter also says that Turley and Leavitt have no prior experience in the positions. The letter said that as psychologist, Leavitt has been a resource, not a victim advocate.
The letter continues to offer multiple suggestions, including that Leavitt receive at least 100 hours of advocate training by September and volunteer with a local advocate agency for the first six months she serves in her position, that Turley attend the Four Corners of Title IX Compliance and the Trauma-Informed Sexual Assault Investigation and Adjudication Institution, that Turley shadow another Title IX director and have the internal Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault evaluate Turley and Leavitt’s training. If they are unable to fulfill the responsibilities, they should be replaced or take steps to assure the qualifications are met.
“The university has a responsibility to make an unequivocal statement that sexual assault is not only illegal but pure evil,” the letter reads. “Rape is not sex, and all forms of sexual assault are criminal acts. The university also has the responsibility to victims of sexual assault in comforting, aiding and protecting them.”
Turley, who has been open about being a survivor of sexual assault, was previously the manager of BYU’s Women’s Services and Resources. Leavitt is a psychologist who worked in the student counseling center. Turley has also worked with the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City.
"We appreciate the support expressed by UCASA and look forward to working with them in the future," BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said in an email Friday afternoon.
In October, BYU announced it was making changes after months of a study by an internal committee and outside public pressure for the university to make changes.
BYU underwent national criticism in the spring for its handling of sexual assault cases after students reported they were investigated by the university’s Honor Code Office after they reported their assaults. The investigations reportedly centered on possible honor code violations that occurred around their attacks. More than 117,000 people signed an online petition asking for honor code amnesty for survivors when they report a sexual assault.
The addition of an amnesty clause for sexual assault survivors in the sexual misconduct policy is ongoing.
BYU remains under investigation by the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for possible Title IX violations, an investigation that could take years to complete.
BYU University Police was also placed under investigation by the state Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Investigation in the summer for possible violations related to the reporting of sexual assault and how the department accesses and disseminates information after Utah County law enforcement agencies noticed an abnormal trend of BYU University Police accessing their records. At the end of that investigation, findings could be reported to the Utah County Attorney’s Office for charges, if necessary.