Council to address LGBTQ sexual violence

 

The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault announced the creation of a new statewide LGBTQ Coordinating Council to ensure that LGBTQ survivors of and victims of sexual violence, as well as the broader LGBTQ community, are represented in victim services organizations, institutions, and partnerships that serve sexual violence survivors statewide.

“LGBTQ people experience violence at a disproportionate rate compared to our community at large,” said executive director Turner Bitton. “We believe fundamentally that LGBTQ people have unique insights, experiences, and backgrounds that will enrich and strengthen our efforts to end sexual violence in Utah.”

“We’re hoping to get a lot of interest from folks across the state who are interested in participating in the Council and ensure that LGBTQ people are represented throughout our work. This Council, at its core, is about building power and ensuring that LGBTQ people have a voice in the broader movement to end sexual violence,” said executive director Turner Bitton.

Bitton says that several studies indicate sexual violence is often an overlooked dimension of hate or bias-motivated crimes against adults who identify (or are perceived to be) LGBTQ. Sexual harassment between same-sex peers: Intersection of mental health, homophobia, and gays and lesbians are more likely to experience sexual violence compared to other groups typically targeted for hate crime victimization.

“All of this is particularly concerning because research also indicates that such hate crimes are less likely to be reported to authorities than other types of hate crimes, due to fears of bias against LGBTQ people who experience violence,” Bitton said.

The Council seeks to ensure adequate representation of LGBTQ survivors in all of Utah’s Sexual Assault Response Teams. These teams ensure a victim-centered response when sexual violence has been reported. This helps start the healing process, but also helps the survivor maintain the courage to go through the investigation and prosecution processes.

LGBTQ-affirming training will also be provided statewide to sexual violence programs, law enforcement, and any other institution that interacts with sexual violence survivors.

The group will also produce information for LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence, and will focus specifically on rural, underserved, and culturally-specific programs and communities.

UCASA has opened applications to the public for those who are interested in serving on the Council. Council members are expected to agree to a one year term on the Council. Members of the public who are interested in the council can find additional information at ucasa.org/LGBTQ.

This piece originally appeared in QSaltLake magazine. Click here to read the original article.


U Changes Focus On Preventing Sexual Assault, Providing Resources To Victims

University of Utah administrators are taking steps to make the campus safer. The changes include mandatory sexual assault awareness training for students, faculty and staff.

U President David Pershing convened the Presidential Task Force on Campus Sexual Assault back in December when campus safety and sexual assault dominated news reports locally and nationwide. This week, Pershing approved nearly $400,000 in funding for the group’s recommendations. They include more lighting on campus, additional staff, mandatory safety and prevention training for everyone and a new website that Barb Snyder, vice president of student affairs says will be a resource for crime victims and people who have safety concerns. 

“How to report if something has happened to you,” Snyder says. “Making students feel like they can report, not just crimes but a light that’s out at night or they’re walking across campus and they feel, this doesn’t feel like a safe part of campus to me. They’ll be able to more easily report that as well.”

U employee Sheri Jardine thinks the sexual assault awareness course is a good idea.

“Especially students coming in who are young and maybe haven’t experienced a lot of life yet,” she says. “And then they get here and they’re on their own and I think it’s easy to miss where that line is.”

Zach Putnam is a sophomore. He agrees.

“Awareness always helps,” Putnam says. “But is it a massive problem here? I don’t know anyone personally but I hear stories all the time. Like in the news more than anything.”

Turner Bitton is with Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. He says a safe campus can be defined in two ways. 

“There’s a recognition by staff and faculty and students, really the entire campus community that sexual assault will not be tolerated and that the university is committed to eliminating it,” Bitton says.

The second, he says is having systems in place to properly investigate reports of sexual assault. He says the U is well on its way to achieving both.

This piece originally appeared on kuer.org/kuer 90.1FM. Click here to read the original article and listen to the recording of the broadcast.


Targeting Isolation To Create A Safer Community For Those In Plural Marriage

The impact of sexual violence on people in a plural marriage relationship can be complicated. In Utah, the state’s Coalition Against Sexual Assault is working with victims who struggle to find support for families who may have more than one spouse. Many legal issues and feelings of isolation can complicate matters for those who need help.

Plural marriage, which is better known as polygamy, is illegal in the U.S. However, there are still those who have more than one spouse. For some, this practice is religious, for others it is culture based. Alina Darger has one husband and two sisterwives. She is the founder of Cherish Families, an organization that focuses on helping domestic abuse and sexual assault victims in a plural marriage context. She said there are a lot of assumptions about her and others who are in a plural marriage.

“I’ve been asked a couple of times in my life how I escaped polygamy or questions about my prophet Warren Jeffs, which I’ve never met him, I don’t know anything about him,” she said. 

Darger is part of a group of independents that practice plural marriage because of religious reasons but do not belong to any specific church. Each group and family has varying beliefs that range from fairly modern lives like the Darger’s, to more conservative lives and dress that you might see in someone who is part of the FLDS group, formerly led by Warren Jeffs. Because of the stigma surrounding plural marriage and various raids targeting this population, Darger says many people don’t get help when they need it.

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Utah Law That Could Send Online Bullies to Jail Criticized

By HALLIE GOLDEN, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers hope a new, unusual law cuts down on increasingly troubling forms of cyber harassment by giving authorities the ability to send online bullies to jail for a year.

Law enforcement, school officials and support groups back the effort, but some lawyers and a libertarian-leaning group have balked at what they call vague language in the law. They believe it could be unconstitutional and lead innocent people to be charged with crimes.

The regulation won unanimous approval in the Legislature and makes it a crime to post information online that can identify someone, including their name, photo and place of employment, to "intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, frighten, or disrupt the electronic communications of another."

Similar laws in New York and North Carolina have been ruled unconstitutional in recent years, said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who called Utah's measure a violation of the First Amendment.

He helped launch a lawsuit last week challenging a similar law in Ohio.

"There are some situations where you might say this is punishable, especially if it's a threat," Volokh said. "But again, it deliberately applies to speech that doesn't fit within any First Amendment exception."

An advocacy group says the measure might have helped a gay Utah State University student who was afraid to come forward in 2013 to report being sexually assaulted after someone started posting his photo and phone number on Craigslist along with details on the forms of sex he was interested in.

The student hadn't revealed publicly that he was gay and was terrified about the possibility that people would find out, said Turner Bitton of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Such cyberbullying has increased in recent years and can be especially damaging when used in relation to sexual violence, he said.

Those critical of the Utah law contend it could apply to innocuous, normal online behavior, such as somebody criticizing his neighbor's choice of house paint on Facebook or complaining about a state lawmaker in an online comment section.

The law means the disgruntled house owner or lawmaker could initiate criminal proceedings by arguing that the information was posted to harass or frighten them, said David Reymann, a First Amendment lawyer in Utah.

"It's not going to just apply to the typical stalker who is moving to an online platform to continue what we consider to be stalking," Reymann said.

This is not the first time Utah lawmakers have attempted to combat this type of cyberbullying.

Last year, they considered a similar measure but stripped out a section on identifying information because of some concerns with its broad language, according to then-Rep. David Lifferth, a Republican who sponsored the 2016 bill. Lawmakers said they ran out of time to approve it.

"I just can't imagine a situation where this would be inappropriately applied," said Republican state Sen. Daniel Thatcher, adding that he sponsored the new law at the request of the Department of Public Safety.

Maj. Brian Redd said the department supports the general effort to reduce cybercrime, but it was Lifferth who pushed to address the issue.

Connor Boyack, president of the libertarian-leaning nonprofit group Libertas Institute, said he plans to push for a measure next legislative session that narrows the scope of the law's language.

He said he wants to replace words such as "harass" with "significant harassment," so "prosecutors have a higher bar to meet in order to prove their case."


Advocates: Utah Sexual Assault Bill Could Harm Victims

By HALLIE GOLDEN, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Republican state representative is proposing legislation to require that Utah colleges give immunity to sexual assault victims for conduct code violations related to alcohol and drugs and allow school officials to report serious assaults to police.

But a sexual assault survivor and an advocacy group are pushing back against the proposal, saying it wouldn't stop schools from investigating many victims.

Bill sponsor Kim Coleman said the measure is meant to make sure institutions are taking the right steps to reduce these crimes, and handle them appropriately when they do happen.

The news comes about one year after Mormon-owned Brigham Young University faced a major backlash when it was revealed it was investigating sexual assault victims for violating the school's strict code of behavior. The institution announced in October that it would revise this policy.

Madeline MacDonald, one of the students who reported being sexually assaulted while a student at BYU, said on Wednesday that a bill that only protects students from being investigated for violations related to alcohol and drugs would not have protected her.

"Drug and alcohol cases are a minority of the cases where women are scared to report," said MacDonald.

Melanie Heath, spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education, said in an email that amnesty is not appropriate in all sexual assault situations, but did not provide any examples.

"It is important for the higher ed institution to have discretion," she said.

Coleman introduced a similar bill during the 2017 legislative session, but it failed amid concern that it wouldn't protect all victims from investigations and would take control out of the hands of these students.

She said she is still working on the new bill and may consider revamping it so that students who report sexual assaults are granted full immunity.

Coleman said the measure may also allow schools to refer reports of abuse to law enforcement agencies if they appear to pose a major threat to campus safety.

Turner Bitton, of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said that could actually result in fewer people reporting assaults to their school because they don't want officials going to law enforcement.

"It takes away that power from the survivor and gives it to the institution," he said.

BYU announced in October that it would no longer investigate student victims who reported sex assaults for violations of the school's strict honor code that bans drinking and premarital sex.

The change came after several sexual assault victims said they felt silenced by the policy and the Provo university launched an internal review.

The probe found that the Title IX office on campus sometimes shared victims' names and details of assaults with the honor-code office after investigations were completed.


Utah continues to hold out on the Prison Rape Elimination Act — but why?

Two states continue to reject the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

One is Arkansas.

The other is Utah.

And, as a result, Gov. Gary Herbert’s refusal to comply with the 2003 law cost Utah more than $420,000 in Justice Department grants since 2014.

It’s time for Herbert to explain how his objections to the law make Utah inmates safer — either that, or sign a compliance letter with the Department of Justice.

Herbert wrote to the DOJ in May 2014, outlining his objections to PREA.

While he supports the law’s intent, Herbert said, he refused to implement some requirements “because they are not sound policy and in some circumstances undermine our efforts to eliminate prison rape.”

One example of unsound policy, according to Herbert — a requirement for officers to announce themselves upon entering a unit containing inmates of the opposite gender.

Herbert said that would allow inmates to hide sexual assaults already in progress and put the officers at risk.

So, governor, are you saying it’s better for an officer to stumble upon an assault and try to subdue a desperate attacker?

Are you saying it’s better to let an assault continue until an officer sees it, when the announcement of an officer’s arrival could immediately stop a rape?

Are you saying Utah corrections officers aren’t trained to recognize the signs of sexual assault and inmates could easily conceal evidence of a violent attack?

Herbert also objected to the PREA audit program as costly and time-consuming.

Would those audits help Utah prisons respond more effectively to sexual assaults? Would they help the public assess the performance of the Utah Department of Corrections?

Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, says they would.

"What advocates understand is that sexual violence is never a punishment for any crime," Bitton told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Would the cost of the audits been offset by the state’s $422,000 in lost Justice Department grants? The DOJ withheld more than $146,000 in corrections, law enforcement, juvenile justice and women’s programs in 2016, The Trib reported. That’s on top of nearly $135,000 in 2015 and more than $141,000 in 2014.

In a state that cannot find room for prisoners in its state mental hospital and fails to adequately fund its public defender system, an extra $422,000 would’ve helped save lives and protect the rights of indigent Utahns.

Herbert’s spokeswoman, Kirsten Rappleye, said in an email to The Trib that the governor still maintains his 2014 position on PREA.

If so, it’s now up to Herbert to demonstrate how his approach does a better job of protecting prisoners than the federal guidelines adopted by 48 other states; it’s up to Herbert to explain how refusing to announce the arrival of officers in a unit with inmates of the opposite gender is worth $422,000 — and counting.

And if he can’t, it’s time for Utah to end its holdout on PREA.

This piece originally appeared in the Standard-Examiner. Click here to read the original article. 


Utah one of only two states not complying with federal prison-rape guidelines, DOJ says

Utah continues to reject federal guidelines meant to prevent prison rape — and now is one of only two states that won't comply, according to a recently released U.S. Department of Justice report.

Nineteen states have fully adopted standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA, according to the department's latest compliance list. Another 34 states and U.S. territories have demonstrated they are working toward compliance.

But Utah and Arkansas continue to reject the standards. Several other states — including Idaho, Alaska and Texas — initially rejected PREA but in recent years agreed to move toward compliance. 

Kirsten Rappleye, spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert, said in an email that Utah "fully supports the goal of eliminating rape within our correctional facilities," and the state "implemented many of the stated recommendations prior to the PREA's passage, and has now implemented the majority of them."

But she said state officials felt certain aspects of PREA "undermined our dedicated efforts to eliminate prison rape," so the state has decided not to comply.

Passed in 2003, PREA mandated increased sex-abuse training for staff and the ability of inmates to report sexual assault to a rape crisis center or similar organization, among other guidelines. It also required prisons be audited for compliance with the law every three years, and created a uniform method to collect data on prison sexual assaults. Federal statistics estimate about 200,000 inmates are sexually assaulted each year.

For Utah, refusing to implement the standards has meant losing out on significant federal grant money. Last year, $146,132 was withheld in Department of Justice grant funds for corrections and law enforcement, juvenile justice and violence against women programs, according to Bureau of Justice Assistance figures. In 2015, it was $134,899, and in 2014, the state lost $141,347.

Herbert wrote a letter to the DOJ in 2014, saying the state would not adopt certain requirements of PREA, including one rule that prison workers who entered secure facilities with opposite gender inmates announce their presence. He also wrote PREA's prison audit structure was overly costly and burdensome for the state.

Rappleye said the letter continues to represent the governor's position on PREA.

"We would like to work with the federal government in every way to reduce prison rape, but we will not sacrifice results to satisfy an arbitrary one-size-fits-all process," Herbert wrote in his 2014 letter.

Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said implementing PREA would increase prison sexual-assault transparency in Utah through regular audits and the uniform collection of sexual assault data that could be compared to other states. Better accounting could help lead to improved rape responses at certain under-performing facilities, he said. 

"What advocates understand is that sexual violence is never a punishment for any crime," Bitton said. 

Mara Haight, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, said more resources are needed for prisons to help prevent abuse and give support to sexual assault victims — especially considering a majority of inmates have already experienced some form of violence or abuse prior to entering prison. Access to outside sexual-assault resources is one area that needs major improvement at Utah prisons, she said. 

Haight also said it was frustrating to see federal grant money was being withheld due to the state's noncompliance.

"It means fewer resources to be able to work on improving these systems and building up resources," she said. "It's really troubling that our state can't commit to the bare minimum of what PREA is proposing."

When the DOJ released its first list of states complying with PREA in 2014, only two states were certified in compliance, and six states opposed the rules. 

Lovisa Stannow, executive director of the human rights organization Just Detention International, called Herbert's hold-out on adopting the standards "disappointing" and "indefensible" in light of how many states now support the standards.

"Fortunately, much of the early cynicism around the PREA standards has faded away," Stannow said in a statement. "Elected representatives and corrections professionals are realizing that the standards make a lot of sense."

This piece originally appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune. Click here to read the original article. 


Bystander Intervention Workshop Teaches Violence Prevention

The BYU Title IX Office and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault sponsored a Utah County Bystander Intervention Skills Workshop on May 11 to teach both men and women how to effectively prevent and potentially intervene on harmful situations.

Men’s Engagement Specialist for the State of Utah Department of Health Martin Liccardo conducted the workshop.

The bystander effect refers to people not helping someone in need because they assume somebody else will do it. Bystander intervention is a prevention approach to all types of violence, including sexual violence, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Liccardo said the goal of the workshop was to make everyone more comfortable with the topic because it is not just an issue at BYU.

People won’t help in most harmful situations because it’s risky or inconvenient and there are too many unknowns, according to Liccardo. He said when people do choose to step in there can be a dramatic impact.

“Prevention happens before violence occurs,” Liccardo said. “Intervention is what we do to stop violence while it’s happening or to mitigate or minimize the harm of violence.”

Liccardo said intervention is important but prevention should be the first goal.

He said people’s attitude about sex, sexuality and sexual violence, and the current culture teach that personal boundaries don’t matter.

At a young age, people are introduced to gender stereotypes and to a culture that devalues women, which is a precursor to violence, according to Liccardo.

“When you want to insult a man, the most powerful thing you can do is to call him a woman. When you want to insult a woman, the most offensive thing you can call her is a woman,” Liccardo said. “I wonder how we feel about women in this culture.”

Often times, women are called “crazy,” which silences them, according to Liccardo.

He also addressed implicit bias and unconscious bias. Licardo said it’s OK to have a certain attitude about a situation, but to be effective, each person can’t be biased and use those judgments to harms others when they need help.

Liccardo said people think if they can’t find the perfect way to help or don’t feel qualified to do so, they will do nothing, but there lots of ways to help. He said it’s difficult to talk about sex in a healthy and appropriate way in today’s culture, so this makes it even harder to talk about sexual violence.

While the culture can’t be changed by just one person, there is still an important role to be played by a bystander interventionist, according to Liccardo. He said people can directly and indirectly intervene and one may be more effective depending on the situation.

“It’s important to understand the bystander role because when you step outside of these roles, you tend to get yourself in situations where your safety is at risk or your effectiveness at intervening is at risk,” Liccardo said.

Liccardo said there are positive and negative consequences to intervening and people can’t always expect to be the hero when they intervene.

He challenged the group with difficult scenarios. There wasn’t always a right answer on how to intervene.

He said various ways to diffuse a harmful situation include distraction, silently staring, finding others to help and humor when appropriate.

People must be conscious of their own safety, but they should mix and match different approaches because any help is better than no help, according to Liccardo.

Liccardo said he wants people to keep thinking about the issue, recognize what barriers keep them from intervening and how bias plays a role.

Special education major Hailey Stolworthy said she learned valuable lessons from the workshop and was inspired to be a better advocate for others.

“We always need to be an advocate,” Stolworthy said. “I just think that if everyone was an advocate and if more people were interested in it instead of thinking this was just a women’s issue, then it would stop. We would see less of it.”

This piece originally appeared in the Daily Universe. Click here to read the original article. 


BYU holding bystander intervention training, UVU appoints new associate vice president

Utah Valley University

New vice president — Stephen Whyte, a tenured associate professor, has been appointed the new associate vice president of university marketing and communications. He replaces Chris Taylor, who was moved to the position of assistant vice president of government affairs. Whyte has also been the coordinator of the undergraduate public relations program, has received the UVU Presidential Award of Excellence for Engaged Learning and was named the 2014 Professor of the Year for University Philanthropy.

Police Academy graduation — Students in the UVU Police Academy will graduate at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Grande Ballroom. The next academy graduation will be July 6.

Brigham Young University

Devotional — McKay Christensen, the managing director of alumni and external relations will give the devotional address at 11:05 a.m. Tuesday in the de Jong Concert Hall. His devotional will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org and archived on speeches.byu.edu.

Bystander intervention training — A bystander intervention skills workshop will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday in room 3290 of the Wilkinson Student Center. The workshop is being put on by BYU Title IX and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. It is free and open to the public.

This piece originally appeared in the Daily Herald. Click here to read the original article. 


Fearless 5K raises awareness to help eliminate sexual violence in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) - An annual 5K run was held in Salt Lake City to help raise awareness about the devastating effects of sexual assault and raise funds to help combat the violence.

The Fearless 5K, held Saturday morning at Memory Grove, helps to raise critical funds to support the life changing work of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

"It serves as a source of inspiration and hope for advocates and survivors of sexual assault alike," said Michelle Worthen, a board member for UCASA.

"The most important thing for people to remember is to start believing them. If somebody comes to you and tells you that they've been sexually assaulted, you need to believe them. Let the law enforcement and the courts do their due diligence to find out what happened."

This is the third year for the Fearless 5K where survivors of sexual assault and their supporters show up in hopes to help raise funds to support UCASA and their mission.

This piece originally appeared on good4utah.com. Click here to read the original article. 


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