Ben Ogles, dean of The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, spoke against sexual assault and advocated for consent at Tuesday’s BYU Devotional.
Ogles serves on the Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault. As part of his responsibilities, he read every response to surveys and feedback from BYU students and the community.
“Though it took many hours, we read every response, some of which described personal, heartbreaking experiences,” Ogles said.
In his role as a psychologist and as a stake president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ogles has worked with people who are seeking counsel and comfort after assault or abuse. He said this background has made him more “keenly aware” of the suffering consequent of sexual assault.
“What added to my sorrow was the fact that here at BYU, even though we have high standards for our conduct, there are individuals who perpetrate and experience unwanted sexual contact. This was discouraging,” said Ogles.
Ogles framed his thoughts about sexual assault within LDS doctrine.
Agency, Accountability and Jesus Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice
Agency is the right for people to choose how to conduct themselves, without God controlling or forcing them. There are good and evil actions in this life, which makes choice possible.
“While our Heavenly Father recognizes and cares about the evil and pain we experience in this world at the hands of others, he will not remove their agency because doing so would violate the boundaries that promote our progression,” said Ogles.
Accountability for our actions is a natural biproduct of agency.
“Agency is inextricably bound to accountability — for every decision and action, we remain answerable to God,” said Ogles.
Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice allows for forgiveness and healing from all sorrow.
“The Savior’s atoning sacrifice can heal us from the hurts and abuse of others,” said Ogles. “Even so, it is upsetting, sometimes agonizing, to experience the evil, ignorant, or naïve acts of some that harm us or our loved ones.”
The Creative Powers of Sexual Intimacy
Ogles emphasized that the ability for women and men to create life together is sacred and given from God. Because of its sanctity, God has strict guidelines for the expression of sexual intimacy.
“Sexual intimacy can be a healthy, positive experience when it is mutually expressed under the right circumstances, within healthy contexts and with the full consent of both individuals,” said Ogles.
Ogles also warned of the danger of misusing the gift of creation.
“When used inappropriately through dehumanizing objectification of others, selfish gratification or as a tool to subjugate and manipulate another person, sexual contact becomes an act of aggression that lacks respect for agency, affection and God’s standards,” said Ogles.
Sexual assault is most often committed by acquaintances, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend, spouse or friend.
The doctrinal foundation he taught explains why committing sexual assault is such a “grievous sin.” Ogles explained that consent is a part of each person using their agency.
Asking for Consent
Ogles said that the media often “romanticizes assault” when the hero forcefully kisses a woman, who melts into his embrace. He said that the media bombards people with such inaccurate and fake representations of relationships.
“The most respectful approach in real life is to honor the personal space and physical autonomy of others and only kiss or touch when you are sure you have consent. Remember, sexual contact without consent is assault,” said Ogles.
He explained to students that they should always ask a person if they can kiss or touch them instead of assuming. Ogles clarified that marriage is not consent to intimacy and that spouses are to continue to respect their partner’s agency and space.
“The pain of being physically violated is much worse than the brief and potentially awkward moment when someone lets you know that they would like to be more physically intimate,” said Ogles.
To Perpetrators and Survivors
Ogles encouraged anyone in the audience who has perpetrated sexual assault to see their bishop, repent, cooperate with legal authorities and seek professional help.
“Those who violate another’s agency through force, coercion, ignoring or naively guessing about their wishes regarding sexual contact will stand accountable for their actions,” said Ogles.
Ogles reassured survivors that they are not worth less or damaged because of what happened to them. He listed BYU campus resources available to them.
“To those who have had traumatic experiences, please know there are people, many people, who are concerned for your welfare, and many people who have experienced on a personal level what you have experienced. You are not alone,” said Ogles.
He also explained that survivors often blame themselves, and the people they confided in may also blame them for the abuse they suffered. Ogles affirmed that survivors are not responsible for the abuse.
“The perpetrator is responsible for their actions,” said Ogles. “A victim was deprived of their agency and they are not accountable for what happened to them without their consent — no matter what they were wearing, where they were or what happened beforehand. They did not invite, allow, sanction or encourage the assault.”
Ogles told the audience that there is someone around them who has been sexually assaulted. He encouraged people to believe survivors, to support them in getting help and to be kind and respectful of everyone. People can also stop inappropriate remarks and behavior.
“Only by uniting our voices and actions to assist victims and promote respect for others can we help to end sexual violence,” said Ogles.
The full devotional is available for viewing now at BYUtv.org and the text will be available soon on the BYU Speeches website.
Next Week: Dance Performance
Enjoy performances featuring the BYU Ballroom Dance Company, contemporary dance theater group, theater ballet and international folk dance group. This devotional will not be broadcast and will only be at the Marriott Center at 11:05 a.m.