A Utah lawmaker’s bill could change Utah State University and other institutions’ ability in handling cases of alleged sexual violence.
HB 326, “Campus Sexual Violence Protection Act,” says victims of alleged sexual violence can request school officials not report the incident to law enforcement, but an institution can override that request if it determines “the information in the covered allegation creates an articulable and significant threat to campus safety at the institution.”
According to USU spokesman Tim Vitale, USU already has policy in place that “balances a student’s request for confidentiality while keeping in mind protecting the safety of the campus community,” using a review panel comprised of the Title IX Coordinator and trained faculty or staff members. But this USU policy only addresses the action the university would take within the institution’s own disciplinary processes.
“Both the Title IX Office and SAAVI notify victims of the option to report to police, and both offices will assist and have often assisted with this process if the student chooses to do so,” Vitale wrote in an email to The Herald Journal. “But it is the victim’s choice.”
Capt. Curtis Hooley, with the Logan City Police Department, acknowledged victims requesting not to report their cases to law enforcement is “not new.”
Hooley, who said he meets with USU’s Title IX office regularly, added, “I can’t think of too many situations (of accusations of sexual violence) in which it’s a danger for the entire campus.”
HB326 passed the House Judiciary Committee 8-2 late Friday.
The bill says institutions should consider a range of factors before going against the students’ request to not take a sexual violence case to law enforcement, including:
• The victim’s age.
• Whether the circumstances suggest the alleged perpetrator will commit an additional act of sexual violence or other violence.
• Whether the alleged perpetrator has a history of arrests that indicates a history of sexual violence or other violence.
Under the bill, if an institution decides to take the allegations to law enforcement, school officials would have to tell the alleged victim in writing within 24 hours, including their reasons for the notification.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kim Coleman, R-South Jordan, noted these provisions to members of the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.
“This was another long and heavy effort working with our institutions trying to find a line,” Coleman said, referring the work it took to draft her bill. “I would not ever want to draw that line myself.”
But Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in a Salt Lake Tribune article said Coleman’s bill provides latitude too broad for institutions in determining whether or not to break victim’s confidentiality.
Neil Abercrombie, USU director of government relations, said USU officials supports Coleman’s bill.
“I think striking this balance between our effort for a safe environment for our students, but then also the confidentiality and individual choice of our students — that’s not a new discussion,” Abercrombie said. “These conversations have really been going on for a couple of years.”
Aside from addressing victims’ right to confidentiality and the institution’s authority to report, Coleman’s bill also includes language that would allow amnesty for students who report an act of sexual violence to the school — similar to a policy already in effect at USU since the school’s Board of Trustees approved it in October.
Under HB326, a higher education institution in Utah “may not sanction a student for a code of conduct violation related to the use of drugs or alcohol if the student is an alleged victim of an act of sexual violence or a witness to an act of sexual violence.”
Under the USU student code already in effect regarding amnesty, if an individual, including a bystander, reports “in good faith” an incident of alleged sexual misconduct, they won’t be subject to disciplinary action by the school for certain violations of policy, such as underage drinking.
Coleman’s bill has been introduced at a time when sexual violence at USU is making headlines. Not only has USU dealt with several cases involving fraternity brothers over the last few years, but the school is currently working to make changes to how it responds to and prevents sexual violence — thanks to a task force chaired by USU President Noelle Cockett.
HB326’s passage also comes after the Utah System of Higher Education, which governs all Utah public higher education institutions, passed a “student safety” policy in January. USHE officials support Coleman’s HB326, according to the organization’s website.
Rep. Brian King fears even fewer sexual assault victims will report to university officials if a proposal allowing police involvement despite their request for confidentiality becomes law.
"In the mind of an alleged victim, that could be a critical factor when deciding whether to come forward or not," said King, D-Salt Lake City.
But the bill sponsor, Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, argued the bar for when universities can involve police would be high.
The House Judiciary Committee on Friday passed HB326, which would allow institutions to supersede a victim's request for confidentiality if they determine there is an "articulable and significant threat" to students on campus.
To make such a determination, the bill states that universities must consider the alleged perpetrator's history of sexual violence — based on either university and police records — as well as whether the person has threatened further sexual violence or the alleged attack was committed by more than one individual.
Turner Bitton, executive director for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, spoke against the measure Friday, saying it provides universities "a wide swath of discretion" to decide whether or not to break a victim's confidentiality.
"We're saying you should report and then on the second hand we're saying there are broad categories where we can break your confidentiality and take power away from the victims to control their own circumstances," Bitton said.
Vagina, masturbation, oral sex—expect to apologize if you use this kind of "vulgar" language in the presence of Utah legislators. The apology came from a woman testifying before the House Education Standing Committee, as they considered Rep. Brian King's Reproductive Health Education and Services Amendments. Yes, excuse her for speaking in anatomical terms. The hours of testimony were sprinkled with eye-popping conservatism and a good bit of real statistics. "Sex makes us all crazy," Rep. Eric Hutchings said. "There's an inability to say 'vagina' ... and they don't understand that they've been assaulted," Turner Bitton of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault said. There were those who think comprehensive sex ed opens the door to the horrors of vaccinations and of course, porn. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss had to correct one woman who thought teachers would be handing out IUDs, explaining what they are. King himself was called a snake-oil salesman. Ultimately, guess what we'll be teaching? Abstinence.Read more
How is the Utah Legislature handling sexual violence issues in our state?
Representative Angela Romero, (D) Salt Lake City, and Turner Bitton, Executive Director, Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, joined Inside Utah Politics to discuss the different bills that would help solve the issue.
PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Utah) - A registered sex offender from Provo is back on the streets after police say he raped an elderly woman. 42-Year-old Jeffrey Scofield has been charged with aggravated kidnapping, forcible sexual abuse and rape.
According to the Probable Cause statement the 73-year-old victim in this case told police Scofield handcuffed her to her bed and raped her. After obtaining a search warrant police found evidence of the alleged assault and arrested Scofield on February 3rd.
This is not Scofield's first run in with the law. In 2004 he was found guilty of two counts of sexual abuse of a child. He spent 6 years in prison and underwent therapy.
Despite knowing that Scofield was on the sex offender registry, and police stating that they felt he was a danger to the victim, the judge in the case allowed him to be released on a $25,000 cash only bail. In the PC statement the judge was given it was written, "If Jeffrey is released he could be a danger to the victim..."
Kent Morgan, a former prosecutor with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, says there are only a few exceptions when bail would be denied. "Do we make mistakes? Do people get out sometimes and commit further offenses, yes," said Morgan. "That's terrible, but hat's the cost of having a constitution in the United States where you're innocent until proven guilty. And bail is set to protect the public and not to punish somebody before trial."
But victim advocates with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault say the exception in this case is Scofield's history of sexual violence. UCASA's Executive Director Turner C. Bitton said, "In most cases folks that are not a danger to others deserve the right to bail. This individual has exhibited a pattern of violent behavior, interfered in the original case child sexual abuse case, and he's exhibited a behavior of danger. And law enforcement said this themselves that they had concerns that he was likely to re-offend."
Scofield's next hearing date is set for February 9th. It's possible the prosecutor could ask the judge for the bail to be modified. At the time of this report the Utah County Attorney's Office said their office had not screened Scofield's case.
Utah schools will continue to teach an abstinence-based sexual education curriculum after a bill to allow comprehensive instruction was defeated in committee.
Despite several Republican lawmakers saying sex education in Utah needs improvement, the House Education Committee voted 12-2 along party lines to reject HB215, sponsored by Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
"I'm not ready to go here yet," said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns. "But I'm not ready to stop yet because things are broken."
The committee also declined to vote on a bill by Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, that would have allowed schools to determine whether prior consent of a parent should be required for children to participate in a new abuse prevention course.
Critics said the current opt-out requirement is necessary to include students in abusive situations who might otherwise be kept from receiving information.
"The opt in doesn't take into account that the abuser might be in their home," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. "I think this puts children at risk."
Monday's committee hearing, which lasted for more than four hours due to significant public interest, was a near-replica of a similar proceeding last year.
On Feb. 23, 2016, the House Education Committee voted 11-2 along party lines to defeat a comprehensive sex education bill by King, and it adjourned without voting on a bill by Stratton to require prior consent for abuse-prevention courses.
But both sponsors adjusted their proposals this year in an attempt to reach consensus.
Rather than require an opt-in format, Stratton changed his bill, HB137, to allow schools to select enrollment structure for their abuse prevention courses. And instead of applying a comprehensive sex-education curriculum statewide, King's HB215 would have allowed for both abstinence-based and comprehensive programs, with parents able to select the option — or neither — for their child.
King said the bill was necessary to lessen rates of teen pregnancy and transmission of infections, as well as to educate Utahns about consent and assault. His bill specified that parental notices be printed in at least 14-point font, to ensure that families were aware what their children would be taught at school.
"I believe that if our kids are empowered with education and knowledge about these things," King said, "they're more likely to recognize warning signs."
The two bills drew large numbers of supporters and opponents, requiring overflow accommodations in the House building.
Laureen Simper of the United Women's Forum said the intricacies of sexual relationships are best left to conversations between parents and their children.
"I have to wonder if this is the proper role of government," Simper said.
But Lauren Hunt, a Utah County prosecutor, said the rate of sexual violence in the state points to a lack of knowledge on issues of healthy sexuality.
She referred to a case in which a young girl allegedly had been raped by an acquaintance, but the defendant was acquitted in part because the jury did not believe an assault by an acquaintance could constitute rape.
"These potential jurors are also the parents who are supposed to be teaching our students," Hunt said.
Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said his organization works with sexual assault victims who are unable or unwilling to say the word "vagina," and who don't recognize their experiences as assault.
"That is the legacy of our failed abstinence-plus system," he said.
HB 200 now has a face. And it belongs to Richard Simon Garcia.
Prosecutors accuse Garcia, 46, of raping a 14-year-old girl.
They say he stopped the girl as she skateboarded home from her sister’s, dragged her to a secluded area, and sexually assaulted her Aug. 8, 2014.
But they didn’t issue an arrest warrant for Garcia until last week.
They couldn’t. Because the girl’s rape kit sat untested at the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services for more than two years.
HB 200, sponsored by Rep. Angela Romero, a Salt Lake City Democrat, seeks to establish a deadline for testing Utah rape kits.
Any lawmaker who considers voting against it needs to stop and think of Richard Simon Garcia.
Utah allowed a backlog of about 2,700 rape kits to build up through 2014. Some kits collected in Northern Utah dated back 15 years.
When the backlog became public, lawmakers scrambled to make up for lost time, approving a total of nearly $3 million for testing in 2014 and 2015. In September 2015, the White House and the Manhattan district attorney’s office gave Utah an additional $1.4 million to catch up on testing.
It barely made a dent. A report by Brigham Young University found that despite the extra $4.4 million, the crime lab only processed about a third of its backlog, leaving 1,160 kits untested.
One of them was from Davis County, and it linked Garcia’s DNA to the rape committed Aug. 8, 2014.
Director Jay Henry estimates the crime lab will clear its backlog of rape kits by the end of 2018. Herbert’s response? Increase funding for the crime lab by $750,000.
If an infusion of $4.4 million reduced the state’s rape kit backlog by a third, another $750,000 won’t pay to test the hundreds still in storage.
That will require passage of HB 200, which gives law enforcement agencies 30 days to submit rape kits to the state crime lab, creates a system to track those kits, and ultimately establishes a deadline for testing.
The bill won unanimous approval Friday in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. If enacted, analysts expect it to cost $2.4 million annually.
That’s nothing. In 2011 alone, sexual violence cost the state economy nearly $5 billion, according to a report from the Utah Department of Health and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.Read more
When it comes to properly handling sexual assault, Utah does not hold the best of reputations. Rape culture here is almost never spoken of, and if it is, it’s rarely in an open way. There are a lot of reasons for this. One reason stands out: Utah’s education system. The majority of young children aren’t exposed to “awkward” conversations about sexual health and education, either at school or at home. In our schools, we need to talk about sexuality in a healthy and non-judgmental way. We need to teach young children the actual names of human anatomy. One of the most important factors I would argue is Utah educators — parents and teachers alike — need to take ‘guilt’ out of sex and stop blaming victims.
Conversation is important. If you are teaching a child a nickname for their genitals, what happens if abuse were to occur? If they’re being told not to tell anyone about being touched on their ‘vagina’ or ‘penis’ or somewhere else inappropriate, but they don’t know the correct terms for what just happened to them, why would that child come forward? Saying ‘vagina’ and ‘penis’ shouldn’t be looked at as something a child should feel any guilt over. When teaching simple biology evokes guilty feelings, sexual assault gets even harder to discuss.
If we can’t talk about correct biology, how can we teach children what consent means? Where is the fine line between coercion and intent? What is the definition of being raped? There are so many questions that become harder to discuss if we start at an early age to create a culture where sex is labeled ‘bad.’
Less education puts individual women in a place where they have to teach individual men what is okay and what isn’t. This can turn into something very confusing and dangerous. In fact, it already has. Instead of creating an environment where people feel safe to come forward with an assault, this system has given people permission to ‘slut-shame,’ ‘victim blame,’ and be full of ‘guilt.’ When prosecuting a sexual assault, the woman becomes a target while the man is put into a ‘victim’ role. On the small chance a man does get jailed, it’s usually a smaller sentence than most petty crimes. This is not right.Read more
When students walk through the doors of Weber State University's Women's Center, they come face-to-face with a sign declaring the center nonconfidential.
That means the center's victim advocates may be required to share information about an alleged sexual assault victim's attack as part of federal requirements, or be compelled to do so by law enforcement or university officials, for example.
But a bill filed Wednesday by Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, aims to change that, making communication with the victim private and confidential, with some exceptions.
"We believe this will encourage more survivors to report," said Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA), after a Monday news conference. "By doing [this] we are putting the victim in charge of their own future."Read more
If you knew you could make a difference in the life of an assault survivor, would you do it? By getting involved in this year’s Utah legislative session, you can.
Over the last several years, Utahns have made great progress in addressing issues of violence. Legislative changes have addressed human trafficking, protective orders, child sexual abuse and mandatory consent. Journalists have brought the conversation about sexual assault front and center. Utah universities have established violence prevention and advocacy programs. Thousands have shown support for campus survivors. Many law enforcement agencies have adopted trauma-informed survivor interviewing techniques. These are all successes to be celebrated, but we are far from solving the immense problem of violence in Utah.
Research collected by the Utah Uniform Crime Reports and Utah Department of Health have found there are more rapes perpetrated against Utahns than the national average. In 2013 Utah women experienced nearly 170,000 intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes. Between 2000-11, Utah communities experienced 226 domestic violence-related homicides, averaging 19 deaths per year.
As we look to what 2017 will bring, let’s renew our commitment to reject violence and act with compassion, integrity, respect and love for one another. Let’s practice our values through our actions and inspire those around us to do the same. Let’s commit to actively participating in creating healthy relationships and communities for all.
Additionally, let us not forget our civic duties. Our legislative session began Jan. 23. I urge you to learn about and stay up to date with bills that directly affect survivors through the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault website. Write and call your state legislators and ask them to support these bills and the survivors they serve to protect.
Show up at legislators’ offices, and tell them why this matters to you. Use your creativity and make videos, photos and art that stands out. If you are a social media guru, use your reach and hashtag skills, and ask your family and friends to do the same. If it is safe for you, tell your story.
Talk to your family members, your loved ones, your neighbors and your community about these bills and urge them to connect with their representatives as well. Volunteer with UCASA to support legislative and lobbying efforts. Donate to state coalitions, to your local sexual assault and domestic violence service provider, or to your school's violence prevention and advocacy program. Stand up to harassment, discrimination and violence.
I am asking that you believe in your power to create positive change in your life, in your loved ones’ lives, in the lives of your neighbors and community members. If each and every one of us just did at least one thing this year to support survivor-centered legislation, we would be successful in increasing the safety for all Utahns. As President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”