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Salt Lake Tribune Wins Pulitzer For BYU Campus Assault Series

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Pulitzer winners, left to right, Rachel Piper, Jessica Miller, Erin Alberty, Alex Stuckey and Sheila McCann from the Salt Lake Tribune, look on during a Pulitzer party in their newsroom Monday, April 10, 2017, in Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake Tribune staff won for reports revealing the mistreatment of sexual assault victims at Brigham Young University.

Last May, we did a segment on rape on college campuses that included Salt Lake Tribune reporter Erin Alberty.

She and her colleagues had published a series of articles looking at sexual assault as it intertwined with BYU’s honor code.

The story garnered a lot of attention and led to changes at BYU.

It also won the team a Pulitzer Prize.

“People in the newsroom just started yelping,” Alberty said about learning the team had one the prestigious prize.  

The series began when assault victims started telling stories of how they were investigated by the university's honor code office because of their assault. Students are required to sign BYU's honor code, which restricts among other things alcohol and coffee use. It also prohibits students from being in the apartments of people of the opposite sex after a certain time of night and in the bedrooms of members of the opposite sex at any time. The code also restricts "homosexual behavior."

So, if someone was breaking the code when they were raped or assaulted, they would often be investigated by the Honor Code Office, which can hurt a student's academic standing at the university. 

Alberty said the situation was especially difficult for LGBTQ students who had to admit they were on dates with members of the same sex to report a date rape. 

On top of all of that, assailants could use the university's code to blackmail victims, telling them they would report them to the Honor Code Office if they reported the assault.

Alberty said the reaction to the series was "strong."

"A lot of people responded that they were very unhappy with what was going on," she said, "There were other voices that were kind of apologetic or supportive of BYU’s approach to this.”

As for the school itself, it created a panel to study the issue. The panel released a report last year that recommended 20 changes, including an amnesty program that allows students to report the assault without being punished by the Honor Code Office.

Although Alberty was understandably elated by the accolade, she was also concerned about the students they talked to during the reporting.

“I was a little concerned because obviously, it’s a big celebration when a newspaper wins a Pulitzer Prize at the same time these stories were horrible," she said, "The interview process was very difficult for a lot of these students and a lot of them faced repercussions for going public.”

She talked with many of the victims after the announcement and found "they were really pleased. They felt like their stories were validated.” 




Erin Alberty, Salt Lake Tribune reporter - and Pulitzer Prize winner - 

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)