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Former BYU professor charged with sexually abusing student

BYU professor Michael James Clay, 45, of Springville, has been charged in Provo’s 4th District Court with two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony. He is accused of sexually abusing one of his students.
BYU professor Michael James Clay, 45, of Springville, has been charged in Provo’s 4th District Court with two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony. He is accused of sexually abusing one of his students.
Brigham Young University

PROVO — A Springville man was charged Thursday with sexually abusing a student while he was an associate professor at Brigham Young University.

Michael James Clay, 45, is charged in 4th District Court with two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.

Clay was head of the Urban and Regional Planning in the Geography Department at BYU, according to his online bio.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins on Thursday said Clay has not been an employee of the university since about mid-April and referred all other questions to the Utah County Attorney’s Office.

Between January and March he was in charge of the program at the school the student was involved with, according to charging documents.

“(Clay) has the authority to hire interns and teaching assistants in connection with this program. (He) told the victim that if she trusted him more, he might be able to hire her but that he wanted to wait to see how she improved. (Clay) told the victim that he is very powerful in the victim’s field of study,” according to the charges.

During a meeting with Clay, the woman, who is originally from another country, said she told him she “was having some emotional difficulties.”

“(Clay) told the victim that he could make her feel better and make all the negative feelings go away,” according to the charges. “(Clay) said he could work on her disorders and the negative feelings and that he could be her emotional and physical support. The victim considered (Clay) to be a mentor and a therapist.”

The woman said she met with Clay more than 20 times in his office. During that time, she said he would play “meditation music” and “told the victim that his office was a safe place and that she should not tell anyone what went on there,” the charges state.

Clay also told the woman to delete the text messages he would send her, according to BYU police.

“(He) told the victim that she needed to change her body chemistry and that she needed to practice how to be a good wife and that (he) could help her,” the charges state. At one point, the woman talked about meeting with a counselor or psychiatrist, but Clay told her that “meeting with him was more effective.”

Other text messages included Clay telling the woman he thought they were “making good progress” and that his job was to “help (her) on the inside” and that maybe they should see each other more often, the charges allege.

“On one occasion, (Clay) gave the victim a priesthood blessing. On another occasion, (he) told the victim that he had prayed about her and felt inspired from God to engage in physical contact with the victim,” according to charging documents.

Sometime between Jan. 15 and Feb. 15, Clay drove the woman up a canyon in Utah County touched the woman’s buttocks over her clothing, the charges state. “(Clay) asked if it was OK. The victim said it was OK because she felt like she had to say yes.”

During a meeting in February in Clay’s office, Clay had the woman sit on his lap by straddling him, according to the charges.

“(Clay) asked the victim if she enjoyed it. The victim said she did not and that it kind of hurt. (He) said the victim needed to practice and to try to connect more. (Clay) led the victim to believe that this was somehow therapy for past issues,” the charging documents say.

Clay did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.