Utah lawmaker proposes making campus advocate conversations with sex assault victims confidential

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."

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Take time to speak up against sexual assault

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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.”

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


Let’s Talk Advocacy: Q&A With UCASA Exec. Turner Bitton

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Here at the Chronicle, we’re taking the time to focus on activism and what activism means for our communities and student population. I recently had the opportunity to meet with Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA) Executive, Turner Bitton, for an interview on his success in non-profits and advocacy, and what we can do here at the U to end sexual assault on campus and in our home state.

Q: To start off, I’d like to talk about you — where you’re from, a little bit about your background working with non-profits and just generally what got you to where you are today.

A: I grew up in Western Weber County on a cattle farm. My dad and brother are both law enforcement, so we always grew up talking about politics. My dad was on the planning commission for the little town we grew up in, so I just always had an interest in politics.

I graduated high school and went straight to college — worst thing I ever did. I hate school. So I dropped out. From there I decided to go back and learn some skills, join some political campaigns and do my own thing. Over the course of that I got pretty lucky. I had a lot of mentors and people who invested time in me. And I just started getting involved in things, which escalated. And once you get involved in the non-profit world, it’ll suck you in and keep you involved.

Q: What do you feel are your greatest accomplishments so far?

A: I am very proud of the fact that I’ve led the Drug Policy Project of Utah. We have worked on issues of medical marijuana, drug overdoses and needle exchanges. I have led that organization for three years now as its founding board president. That’s given me a lot of insight into how legislature works, how politics work. I’m very proud of the fact that [we] legalized needle exchanges, so that folks who use injection drugs are able to exchange their dirty needles for clean ones. The goal of that is to reduce HIV and other blood-borne pathogens.

He went on to talk about how facing a less judgmental crowd at these service centers often led to more wrap-around care, like figuring out housing, food and appointments with physicians. He is also Board Chair of the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition, which is working to purchase equipment to test drugs, so that users will know what’s in their drugs and hopefully reduce overdoses.

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Utah Lawmaker Files Opt-In Sex Education Bill

The Democratic leader in the Utah House of Representatives is making another attempt to pass a sex education bill. Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, tried to run a comprehensive sex education bill last year but it failed.

The bill he’s drafted this year would develop an opt-in curriculum that includes sex education, but also lessons on communication, bodily autonomy and setting personal boundaries.  

“When we’re talking about intimate physical contact, that’s something that people should be taught at a very early age as something they’re in control of,” King says.

If passed, King says the bill could help reduce rape and sexual assault. Turner Bitton with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault agrees.

“If you are not having conversations about human anatomy and human sexuality that are age-appropriate and culturally sensitive, we can’t do the kind of primary prevention that we would like to see done at a large scale,” Bitton says.

Previous attempts to pass legislation that included comprehensive sex education in Utah have failed. Conservative lawmakers and advocates say it’s a subject better taught at home by parents.

King’s bill was filed last week. Next it will be considered by a House standing committee before reaching the full House floor for a debate.

This article originally appeared on KUER, to read the original article please click here.


Lawmaker: Utah colleges need confidential assault counseling

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah lawmaker is working on new statewide rules requiring college counselors to keep sex abuse reports confidential. The proposal comes after Mormon-owned Brigham Young University last year faced major backlash when it was revealed it shared sex assault information with its honor code office.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said this week her legislation was not spurred by the controversy at the Mormon-owned school but would apply to private schools like BYU and public universities.

Romero said she instead began drafting the bill after she was alerted to a patchwork of policies among Utah universities, leaving some campus counselors forced to report assaults to administrators.

Turner Bitton, the executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said current confidentiality laws only cover victim advocates and counselors who work in law enforcement, community nonprofits or are covered by medical privacy laws.

But other counseling college students may receive on campus could come from advocates required to report assaults.

Those counselors help students by listening to their concerns, referring them to other services or helping them change class schedules or living situations, among other assistance.

But information students share with them about sex assaults, including their identities, may not be confidential, which can be "a giant barrier to someone reporting on campus," Bitton said.

BYU announced in October that it was revising policies and 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.

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Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault voices support for BYU Title IX hirings

The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault has voiced its support for Brigham Young University’s new Title IX director, deputy Title IX coordinator and victim advocate.

The decision comes on the heels of a letter from sexual assault survivors that was sent to BYU’s President Kevin Worthen following the announcement that Tiffany Turley will be the university’s new Title IX coordinator and Lisa Leavitt will be a victim advocate.

Posted Friday, the UCASA statement states that Leavitt, a member of the Utah County Sexual Assault Response Team, and Turley, who has been trained through UCASA’s 40 Hour Rape Advocate Certificate course, have shown a commitment to aiding sexual assault survivors.

“We understand that victim advocacy at any institution does not exist in a vacuum and in many ways the success of any advocacy program depends on the level of engagement that the local community has committed,” the statement reads. “We will support Ms. Turley and Ms. Leavitt as they begin their new positions.”

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Leader of Utah group targeting sexual assault says it isn’t a women’s issue

Ask Turner Bitton why he cares so much about helping sexual-assault survivors and he struggles to answer — how could someone not?

"I don't need a mom, I don't need a sister, I don't need to know a single woman or man my entire life who's been a survivor to care about this issue," he said. "We need to teach young men and boys that they are leaders on this issue and that we can completely end sexual violence by individual action."

Bitton, 26, plans to do just that as the new executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).

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BYU appoints new Title IX coordinator, victim advocate

Tiffany Turley’s main goal as Brigham Young University’s new Title IX coordinator is simple: create an environment where students feel able to report sexual assaults.

“The safety and well-being of students is definitely my primary concern,” said Turley, 35, who previously served as the university’s Women’s Services and Resources manager.

On Friday, BYU announced that Turley would oversee the school’s Title IX office, tasked with implementing the federal law that requires universities to swiftly respond to and resolve complaints of sexual violence. Turley replaces Sarah Westerberg, who will continue to serve as associate dean of students.

The change is one portion of the 23 recommendations put forth by an internal advisory council, which BYU officials announced in October they plan to follow. Last year, the council completed a study of the university’s sexual assault response.

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The Price of Intimacy

"I just wish people understood what it's like to be me," Russell Greer says. When the 25-year-old rides Trax in downtown Salt Lake City, he occasionally hears a passenger comment on his facial paralysis. He has Mobius syndrome, which means he can't move his eyes from side to side or close his lips.

"What's wrong with his face?" someone asks. He has to rein in his urge to lash out. "I'm not that kind of a person," he says. "That's why I like paying for sex. It helps calm me." He says he suffers from anxiety and depression, and has found intercourse to be healing. "It's really a shame the only legal place is Nevada."

His only choice—other than taking Amtrak or a plane to Nevada, where prostitution is legal in some counties—is to illegally pay for sex in Salt Lake City.

In a February 2016 City Weekly profile, Greer discussed his inability to get dates, and the comfort he sought from sex workers. After Nevada became prohibitively expensive—and he alleges one brothel worker robbed him of $4,000—he turned to Utah. That opened him up to all sorts of problems—from potential STI exposure, to what he calls fraud by women who misrepresent themselves in online ads, or theft and violent assault by them or their male companions. Then there's the threat of arrest and prosecution for soliciting.

So he decided to open a brothel, which Utah law does not permit. On Oct. 18, 2016, Greer—a paralegal recently in the spotlight for unsuccessfully suing singer Taylor Swift—filed a lawsuit against city, county and state officials, including Gov. Gary Herbert, for violating his constitutional rights by upholding laws that make sex work illegal. State officials at the various governmental agencies declined to comment on pending litigation.

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Consent: Yes Means Yes

The reality of sexual assault is that it’s not what most people think.

This mother sent her daughter off to the University of Utah with all the tools she knew to give her, but in the middle of her freshman year that young woman says she was raped by a friend. They've asked us to hide their identity, but this family is sharing their story, hoping they can keep another student from going through the same painful experience.

When you talk to this mother you can feel her heartbreak.

"She can never get her safety back or feel completely safe," the mother said.

All she ever wanted was to protect her child but she says her daughter's trust was stolen from her. To protect her identity, we’re calling this young woman Jane.

"It started with when I went to an event with my sorority," Jane said.

She said after she came home from that event she got a text from a friend. He was upset about a break-up so she told him he could come over and talk. When he got there Jane said he was drunk and aggressive. Within minutes she said he was pressuring her to have sex.  Something she says eventually happened against her will.

"I got a phone call about 3:30 a-m from my daughter, and she said mommy help me," Jane’s mom said.

Jane said she called her mom just 9 minutes after the boy left her dorm room.

"It was kind of, I know I kind of just broke down. Like I freaked out, because I told him that I didn't want to have sex with him. I called my mom and she drove down from Layton to the university to come take me to the emergency room," Jane said.

Good4 Utah got copies of Jane’s complaint to the school and university police. A rape kit was done and police were called. Jane and her mom say those few hours were a whirlwind.

"I think she was so traumatized she didn't know exactly what to do and I honestly had no idea what to do either at that point," Jane’s mom said.

According to documents, the schools title nine office began an investigation, so did police.

"I think I was still in shock for months afterwards," Jane explained.

The university found enough cause to remove the young man from campus but the district attorney didn't have enough evidence to prosecute a criminal case. We talked to Blake Nakamura in the Salt Lake County District Attorney's office to find out why.

“The biggest issue that comes up almost in every single one at some point is whether it was done consensually or not," Nakamura said.

According to the report by the university, Jane told the boy “no.”

"This person admitted that she said no multiple times." Jane’s mom said.

But the boy also claimed, Jane’s body language said something different.

“In the course of these investigations, it's a combination often of the verbal and nonverbal that becomes very problematic," Nakamura said

Jane said she hasn't been the same since the incident.

So if a situation like this is not prosecutable, what can we do? Experts say it comes down to knowing personal boundaries before it goes too far.

"So not waiting for someone to say no or push you away but asking ahead of time, is this ok? Do you enjoy this? Are you comfortable with this?" said Alana Kindness with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA.)

"The guys should just go for it and it was up to the girls to put the brakes on," Kindness said.

And if we don't talk to our kids about consent, she said what they see online, on TV and in movies could end up being their teacher.

"It gives that very harmful message that girls don't really mean what they're saying," Kindness said.

But how do you begin to have a conversation with your kids about healthy relationships?

Kindness said, “I think there's so many ways we can do that it's never going to just be one conversation.”

And it doesn't have to be that topic many parents dread.

"There are very fundamental conversations and then I think you build from there," Kindness explained.

The talks should start when your child is still very young. Psychotherapist, Lisa McCrohan agrees. She's broken it down into 5 things you can start doing with your child today.

First, teach by example. Begin asking your child for consent.

“It’s everyone's responsibility to be proactive to be aware of the impact our behavior is having on somebody else,” Kindness said.

It's as simple as changing the statement "give me a hug" into a question... "Can I give you a hug?" let them make the decision.

Second, teach them that their "no" matters. If they tell you no, or that they are uncomfortable with something honor their feelings.

Third, let your child know, in any circumstance, their "yes" can become a "no" if they're no longer comfortable with what's going on.

“It’s reminding them that they are in charge of their bodies,” Kindness said.

From a game of tag to a conversation, when a child becomes uncomfortable, Kindness says, they should express that immediately.

If they do become uncomfortable with something, move to the fourth step, seek to understand why. This lets a child know their voice and their feelings matter.

"Just really empowering them and strengthening them and giving them self confidence," Kindness said.

Fifth and final step, keep their regard top of mind. Children want you to listen to them and respect them. When you do, they'll learn that behavior and use it in their own life experiences.

All 5 steps Kindness says, you can start right now. Jane's mom says she hopes parents will.

"What I hope is that parents understand, when they send their children to school they need to make sure they are completely prepared,” she said.

Not just with pepper spray and self defense but knowledge and the confidence to stand their ground.

The big take away from experts is this; teach your child, boy or girl, their body matters, their boundaries matter, they matter. Make sure your child understands how their actions affect others. Make sure they can recognize when someone is uncomfortable, and if that happens address it.

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


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