ST. GEORGE, Utah (News4Utah) - FLDS women from the polygamous towns of Hildale and Colorado City were in St. George learning about how they can help those who may have suffered abuse.
At Dixie State University FLDS women are furthering their education, becoming advocates for victims for sexual assault.
"This has given me a greater understanding of what sexual assault victims go through," said Esther, an FLDS mother.
Those in the FLDS faith are still wary of camera's, and not all of these women felt comfortable showing their face, but they felt strongly enough about what they've learned this week to share their voice.
"I want to be able to help them move on and move past that terrible incident in their lives," said Esther.
Voices of Dignity a non-profit in Hildale run by Christine Marie, who helps those in the FLDS faith. She encouraged the women to spend the week being trained as Sexual Assault Victims advocates.
"These people want to keep their children safe. They want to try to protect children and adults from sexual assault, so I am very proud of them," said Marie, Voices for Dignity Founder.
"At first I was like: 'Wow, what am I getting into?' But the more you get into it, the more you realize the need for it, and the good it can do. I am very glad I'm here," said Norma, an FLDS mother of 13.
The women will be certified to provide emotional support to victims, as well as assist victims during forensic exams. They plan to take their knowledge back into their community to lend support, and educate. "
When they start having these assaults- the young girls, the teenagers, they don't know how to say no ... and so they'll say: You should have known better. Well should they? They've never had to," said Norma.
Representatives from the Utah Coalition against Sexual Assault provided training. The trainings were facilitated by those with the Dove Center in St. George.
SALT LAKE CITY — (KUTV) Julee Smith is sorry for what victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence have endured, but said she is "grateful" accounts, once hidden against the rich and powerful, now have come to light.
"I've heard this from a number of people," Smith said, the director of the Ogden non-profit Your Community Connection for eight years. "When you feel like you're not alone, when you feel like there are other people that have experienced what you have, and that they have the courage to speak up and be counted, and that they will come together as a group and support each other, makes all the difference."
Names of the accused, in what seems an endless stream of stories, include Weinstein, Lauer, Rose, Franken and more.
I'm disturbed by the number of people who dismiss reports of sex abuse because it happened 20 or more yrs ago. "Historical cases" is also an overused term as if the passage of time is a natural cleanser of crimes. It is not. There ought to be consequences.— Emma Alberici (@albericie) November 27, 2017
Smith said her organization is fielding thousands more calls than just a few years back, and the number of domestic and sexual abuse clients has grown. But the stats may mirror more awareness on the national level, not serve as a strong reaction to it.
"I accepted it," said a woman, who told 2News she suffered abuse at the hands of her boyfriend for years. "I decided to spend of the rest of my life with this person regardless of the abuse."
She did not want to be identified, but said the week of Thanksgiving she finally called the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault for help. She said she did it at the urging of a friend, and for fear her boyfriend might kill her.
"They gave me hope that it could be different," she said.
Stories against high-profile figures also seemed to have impact with her.
"I felt relief, I felt relief," said the woman. "I felt like my kind would finally have their day, would finally be able to get out of the cage."
At the coalition, director Turner Bitton said web traffic has shot up in the last several months. There were less than 6,000 visits to its web page in August, compared to more than 12,000 in November.
Free and confidential support for victims and survivors of sexual assault or harassment is available 24/7 in Utah. The number is 1-888-421-1100.
SALT LAKE, Utah (ABC4 Utah) -- Amidst high-profile sexual assault allegations in the workplace, many cases still go unreported. There are local agencies that can walk you through the steps on how to file a grievance with your employer.
Some are saying this is a watershed moment. The Rape Recovery Center says they've had a 76 percent increase in calls into their crisis line last month.
Mara Haight, Rape Recovery Center Executive Director, "False reporting is rare. About 90% of survivors are not reporting. If we embolden people to share their case, that number will continue to increase. It won't mean more people are being assaulted it means more people are speaking out."
But how do you go about doing that?
One of the first calls could be to the Rape Recovery Center.
"Our first concern is how are you feeling? How are you doing? What do you want right now? If reporting to police is not what you feel comfortable with, we'll help them. It might be an advocate that helps you contact the HR representative. We'll help you find the words, what to say," said Haight.
Turner Bitten, the Executive Director at the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault or UCASA has been taking calls from employers and training organizations on safe work environments.
"We've had calls from ski resorts to non-profit organizations and government agencies reaching out for training," Bitten.
Bitten says it starts with strong leadership and a commitment to a safe working environment, training and policies in place on how to file a human resources complaint.
And for the survivor, knowing the resources available is key.
"We want to give you all the information and choices that you need to make a decision that feels empowering to you," said Haight.
There are nearly a dozen resources community based sexual violence services in Utah.
Free and confidential victim support is available 24 hours a day at 888-421-1100.
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) An 11 year run from the law comes to an end for a former Utah corrections officer.
US Marshals captured William Lawrence in Hawaii Monday.
While working in the Utah State prison, Lawrence handcuffed a young woman to a bed and used his badge to force her to have sex. Before sentencing, Lawrence fled, eluding police since 2006.
"I was so excited that justice had finally been served," Turner Bitton said, executive director for Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).
The 41-year-old is accused of using his law enforcement background to hide from officers.
US Marshals from Utah finally caught up to him while eating lunch at a Kauai McDonalds, where he had been living under a new identity.
"We were pretty excited. We couldn't work fast enough to uncover more things about this individual, this new person that we had learned of. There were a lot of high fives up on the 4th floor," said US Marshal Supervisor Deputy Derryl Spencer.
Advocates at UCASA said the cold-case arrest reaffirms sexual assault victims that justice will be served.
"The thing that I think it speaks the most to is the fact that there are dedicated professionals working to balance the scales of justice," Bitton said.
Free and confidential help and support for victims and survivors of sexual assault or harassment is available via phone 24/7 at 1-888-421-1100 or online at UCASA.org/resources.
Spencer said possible charges could be filed against anyone who helped hide Lawrence while he eluded law enforcement.
SOUTH SALT LAKE Utah (ABC4 Utah) - It took seven years, but a rape victim now knows the man who allegedly raped her.
Thursday, the Salt Lake District Attorney's office filed charges against 53-year-old David Zachary Swigart related to the 2010 sexual assault.
"This case could be construed as a cold case and based on the evidence of this case, the charges are warranted," said Sim Gill, Salt Lake County District Attorney.
According to Gill, police knew who the suspect was. He said the problem was finding the victim which police did last year.
In 2010, police began investigating the rape allegations. According to the charges and a search warrant, the 18-year-old was walking along 3300 South near 600 East.
That's when a man forced her to a nearby parking lot. There, he threatened to kill the teen, raped her and left. For seven years, the case remain unsolved.
"What I'm happy to see is that it looks like justice is about to be served," said Turner Bitton, executive director with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).
Salt Lake's district attorney was unsure why it took three years for detectives to turn over DNA evidence of the suspect to the state's crime lab.
"I don't know if it sat on someone's desk but there was a gap in 2010, 2013 for some reason it didn't get processed," Gill said.
But he said in 2013 another detective renewed the investigation. Gill said the detective took the suspect's DNA to the state crime lab for processing and it pointed to Swigart.
"Kudos to detectives to stick with it because it almost took three years to locate the victim," Gill said. The victim vanished but Swigart was already in prison on an unrelated crime.
After finding the teen, the state crime lab again took new DNA from Swigart and it matched the old DNA evidence. Swigart was already in prison on an attempted sexual assault.
Sexual assault advocates said despite justice delayed, this will help the victim.
"One of the things we know about trauma is the best way to start the process of recovery is to give power and control back," said Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).
And he said the charges against Swigart is the first step in regaining that power.
As for the district attorney, he too hopes justice will eventually be served for the victim.
"I'm sorry that it took as long as it did," Gill said. "But the fact we are moving the direction of delivering that justice all hope is not lost and should not be lost."
Gill said there have been many important changes to prevent these types of delays. He said their office received a federal grant to expedite the processing of DNA evidence. In addition, Gill said law enforcement has a new policy which makes sexual assaults a priority.
Bitton said UCASA supported legislation that provides additional funding to the state crime lab. He said House Bill 200 will help all victims statewide to get DNA processing at a much faster rate.
Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Turner Bitton talks about local programs to help those who are facing sexual violence. He also speaks about UCASA's program 'Start by Believing' that teaches the community how to recognize and help a victim.
For more information about UCASA, visit ucasa.org. For immediate support, you can always reach The Utah's 24-hour Sexual Violence Crisis Line at (888) 421-1100.
The words #MeToo flooded Turner Bitton’s feed as he scrolled through social media. He estimated roughly two-thirds of women and a fair number of men he knew used the viral hashtag meant to identify sexual assault victims.
As executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, or UCASA, Bitton is no stranger to the fact that sexual abuse plagues American society, but even he was surprised at the number of people who spoke out using the hashtag.
“One of the things that this campaign in particular has done is really shown the scope of the issue. … it gives people an idea of how big the scope of the problem is,” Bitton said.
Origins of #MeToo
The hashtag originated almost 10 years ago by sexual assault advocate Tarana Burke, but has gained recent traction in a tweet written by singer and actress Alyssa Milano. She asked followers to reply to her tweet with “me too” if they’ve ever experienced sexual violence.
Actress Alyssa Milano asked women to use #MeToo to share stories of sexual abuse on Twitter. The hashtag #MeToo has since gone viral.
“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” she wrote.
Her tweet was in response to the highly publicized sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, and was meant to show the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the US.
The tweet now has more than 68,000 replies and more than 25,000 retweets since it was posted on Oct. 15. Consequently, the phrase “me too” is now a viral hashtag across social media, and thousands are sharing their own stories of sexual harassment and assault online.
But will speaking out lead to real change? And is it helpful or harmful for victims to be so open about their past, especially on a platform as volatile as social media?
The Utah Department of Health reports one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence during their lives.
BYU hosted a forum discussion titled, “Smart Talks: I’ve Never Told Anyone…” to end the BYU Women’s Services and Resources’ weeklong event, Voices of Courage, on Oct. 20.
Elizabeth Smart was one of the four panelists featured at the event and commended victims for speaking out about sexual abuse.
“I feel so strongly about tonight’s event because we’re here talking about big, dark, scary issues, issues that people don’t want to talk about. It’s even harder to talk about, and even harder to admit that something’s happened to you, but being here tonight … can change that,” Smart said.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Joy O’Banion is the director of strategy at Orem’s Family Support and Treatment Center. She said speaking out with the #MeToo hashtag can potentially be both helpful and harmful to a victim, depending on their emotional strength.
“I think because we have traditionally kept those things secret, people who are sharing (#MeToo) feel a sense of community, and it kind of removes some of the stigma that goes along with sexual assault and sexual abuse,” O’Banion said. “(But) any time you’re posting something on social media that puts you in a vulnerable position.”
Rachelle Hardman, the prevention coordinator at the treatment center, said the #MeToo campaign is powerful because victims don’t necessarily have to disclose the details of their story, and can be empowered just by saying, “#MeToo.”
“Obviously, this ‘me too’ hits a lot of really broad spectrums. We’re looking at sexual harassment in the workplace, we’re looking at child abuse, we’re looking at rape, we’re looking at dating violence. It can definitely cross all kinds of things,” Hardman said.
Elizabeth Harbison studied at UVU and is currently a stay-at-home mom in Texas who decided to use #MeToo on social media. She said deciding to use the hashtag “wasn’t too hard” because all she had to do was “put a hashtag to raise awareness and that’s all.”
Daniella Murri-Villar Wilson went to UVU and The Aveda Institute. She said she didn’t want to speak out initially, but said she felt spiritually prompted to do so after remembering so many personal experiences of sexual abuse against her and other women in her life.
“Once I started writing it was almost therapeutic to tell my truths. I wasn’t even very specific but it was nice to know that I could be honest,” Wilson said.
Getting real help
O’Banion said statistics indicate one in three females and one in five to one in seven males will experience some kind of sexual assault by the age of 18; and campaigns like #MeToo should be a catalyst for survivors to seek help and/or report their abuse.
“Social media is a great venue for all kinds of things, but you’re not going to get the help you need on social media. If you haven’t sought help, if you haven’t talked about this with professionals, then you probably want to do that (because) this could open up a lot of emotional wounds for people if they haven’t dealt with whatever it is that they are ‘hashtag me too-ing,’” Hardman said.
Certified EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapist Tami Luke Thayne said while it depends on the extent of the abuse, it’s been her experience that just talking about sexual assault “is not very helpful” for actual victims of sexual trauma.
“To say ‘me too’ and acknowledge it … should be a start of something more. It’s not enough,” Thayne said. “I think it needs to be followed up with, ‘get help.’ Do something with that acknowledgment.”
Bitton said UCASA has a list of Utah resources available for sexual abuse victims on its website, including a 24-hour hotline. Other on-campus resources are available to BYU students through BYU’s Women’s Services and Resources. The Utah Department of Health also has a list of resources available.
Is change possible?
Valerie Hudson is the director for Texas A&M’s program on women, peace and security, a former BYU professor, and an author who studies violence against women. She said the #MeToo campaign is “very needed” and can lead to change.
“When women (and men) break down the walls of silence, perpetrators recalculate the likelihood of harm to their interests. Sexual abuse has been a ‘cheap’ crime because women don’t speak and police/prosecutors don’t take action. But when many, many women come forward with the same stories about the same men, even our inadequate legal system takes notice,” Hudson said in an email.
Elizabeth Smart said campaigns like #MeToo are important opportunities to educate and inspire change in the legal system.
“(With) what’s going on in the media with Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo campaign, this is the time where it is making more noise,” Smart said. “We’re going to continue to expand this campaign, to expand these events where we talk about these issues because the more people … we educate, the more noise we can make, which will eventually change the system.”
Bitton said he hopes the #MeToo campaign will inspire Utahns to be more politically involved with promoting resources and awareness about sexual assault.
“What I hope is that as we go into the next legislative session, that there’s increased interest in sexual violence and harassment prevention,” Bitton said. “I hope that everyone who’s participated in the me too campaign gets involved.”
UCASA will be hosting their annual ‘Day on the Hill” event on Feb. 13, and invite anyone interested to seek more information on its website.
Hudson said new conversations between women and between men and women like the #MeToo campaign give her hope for the future.
“Things can change, and these women can find comfort that their truth-telling was the reason for that change,” Hudson said.
Title IX has been pushed to the forefront in light of new guidance from the Department of Education, as well as the viral social media movement #MeToo. BYU’s Title IX Office is no stranger to media attention after a year and a half of close scrutiny regarding the way sexual misconduct is investigated on campus.
Department of Education reforms
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ address on Sept. 7 centered on the Department of Education’s commitment to protecting students from discrimination. Following her remarks, DeVos released an interim Q&A for schools on how to investigate campus sexual assault.
“This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly,” DeVos said. “Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos introduces an interim Q&A for schools on how to investigate campus sexual assault. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
The interim Q&A indicates that when a school knows about an incident of sexual misconduct, the school must take measures to understand what happened and respond — whether or not a student files a complaint of sexual misconduct.
Guidance released under the Obama administration in 2011 and updated in 2014 instructed universities to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard when assessing and investigating claims of sexual assault.
DeVos’s new guidelines allow colleges to choose between that standard and a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is harder to meet. There has been no announcement on how long these interim rules will be in effect, but meanwhile the Department of Education will gather comments from the public in order to write new guidance.
Marcus Williams, BYU’s deputy Title IX coordinator for students, said these reforms didn’t change the way Title IX issues are handled at BYU.
“Because of the changes we made in the past year, we’re already kind of leading the way; we’re already ahead of the game,” Williams said. “We make a very concerted effort to make sure all of our investigations are fair and equitable, and that everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard.”
BYU currently follows the preponderance of evidence standard in Title IX investigations. Williams said they don’t know what the final outcome is going to be and how it might affect BYU’s policy, but as of now there have been no changes implemented based on DeVos’ remarks.
BYU Title IX reforms
The past year and a half has been marked by ongoing changes and rebuilding of BYU’s Title IX Office, including the appointment of Tiffany Turley as the new Title IX coordinator. In addition, BYU adopted an amnesty clause, including leniency for other Honor Code violations not directly related to sexual violence.
Williams said the amnesty clause has been working well and Turley has seen an increase in the number of reports.
“We’ve had more reports this semester in six weeks than in all of winter semester,” Turley said.
The addition of the amnesty clause, as well as confidentiality and leniency, was put into practice as soon as President Kevin J Worthen said that was the direction BYU was going to take. It was officially codified into the policy in Spring 2017.
Over the summer, the Title IX office focused on revising its written communication to simplify information for everyone involved. Williams said the office has prepared information for all parties involved in Title IX issues, has updated the website design and is currently working on an updated FAQ section.
“Over the past year we’ve really locked up this investigation piece and it’s set,” Turley said. “We’re completely overhauling the sexual misconduct policy that the university has — we’re changing quite a bit, actually, so some big changes are coming as far as how discipline looks.”
The Title IX office has been working on these changes for the past six or seven months and is now starting the approval process through the university.
Title IX outreach and awareness
Turley said the office’s next big step is training and education about Title IX issues.
“My big theme this year is ‘doing more than ever before,'” Turley said. “That’s what I feel like we’re doing, and our office is just growing, and that’s where we feel we can make the biggest impact now, is with training and awareness.”
Students and members of the community attend BYU Title IX ‘s Voices of Courage art exhibit on Oct. 21. (Tiffany Turley)
Turley said the office wants to focus on training and helping people realize how they can make a difference.
“We want to not just talk about the warning signs of domestic violence, but what a healthy relationship looks like — we want to focus on the good, as well,” Turley said. “There is a lot of good education and awareness that we can provide in a very positive way to help people understand these issues, as well.”
BYU’s Title IX Office hosted the Voices of Courage campaign Oct. 16-20, including a number of workshops, events and speakers. The weeklong campaign ended with a keynote address from Elizabeth Smart on issues surrounding sexual assault and speaking out.
Turley said the vision of the campaign was engaging men and woman as allies.
The Title IX office has already held over 60 separate training sessions this semester. The office has trained incoming freshman, deans, department chairs, athletic teams, academic departments and more.
“We’ve had a lot of students that want to be involved and volunteer,” Williams said. “We’re trying to make a student engagement volunteer group through Title IX and we hope to see that within this school year.”
Williams also said the office has focused on forging stronger community partners and relationships.
“I think with everything that’s gone on, either people didn’t know or had kind of formed opinions about Title IX at BYU and what that looked like,” Turley said. “So we’ve tried to help them really understand all the great changes we’ve made, what we’re doing now and the direction we’re going, and everyone has been so incredibly responsive.”
Turley has been invited to present for different groups, including the National Sexual Violence Resource Center Board of Directors. The Utah County Commissioners invited Turley to a town hall meeting, and she has partnered with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault on many issues.
“There are a lot of opportunities in the community to get the word out about BYU and what resources are here because these issues are wide-ranging,” Turley said.
Turley said working at the Title IX office has been rewarding, eye-opening, humbling and empowering.
“One thing I’ve noticed for sure is we have good students here, and if there is anything we can do to help them, that’s what we want to do,” Turley said. “Unfortunately some of our students are facing these really hard issues … but through the changes the university has made we can offer them more help. Title IX has always been here — there’s always been help, but we’re doing it in a different way now.
Brigham Young University students say sexual assault policy changes have eased ‘culture of fear,’ but there’s more work to be done
A year after Brigham Young University began offering amnesty from Honor Code investigations to students who report sexual assaults, the “huge culture of fear” has eased, senior Tinesha Zandamela believes
But changing the climate on campus — including seeing a widespread understanding of consent — will take more time and more conversations, said Zandamela, a member of the Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).
“We have hundreds and hundreds of students, maybe thousands, who don’t believe that sexual assault actually even happens on this campus or that it’s just this rarity and we don’t need to talk about it,” she said.
“So until we do talk about it more and be a little bit more loud and constant with our message and with more education,” she said, “I don’t think that too much is going to change.”
Tiffany Turley, the school’s new full-time Title IX coordinator, said the university has received more sexual assault reports in the first few weeks of classes than it saw in fall semester last year.
Her office, charged with swiftly responding to and resolving complaints of sexual violence, has provided 60 training sessions to students and faculty already this semester, Turley said.
“I think people just might not have known what Title IX was before, so with all the trainings that we’re doing, the awareness campaigns … people know there is a place on campus where they can go and get help,” she said.
She said the reports are “significant” but declined to provide a specific figure.
“The number of reports is really what kind of helps us sleep at night,” she said, “and know that while every day we go home and wonder, ‘What more could we do?’ we know that what we’re doing now is heading in the right direction and it’s making a difference to our students.”
‘It’s getting better’Read more
Tyler Clancy was tapped to the 12-member panel and says he wants to combat a persistent problem that has affected his family and friends.
"Their, I guess, journey has inspired me to take up the mantle and get more men involved into this fight," says Clancy.
"… to educate young men about what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable," Clancy says, "and it also has ways to break out of cycles of violence in the home."
Clancy and other council members plan to learn the curriculum to share at detention centers and after-school programs around Utah.