Possible rape kit-test law brings comments from both sides of the issue

(KUTV) A push to legislate mandatory processing of all rape kits has people speaking out on both sides.

Victims advocacy groups say all the evidence that can be gathered, should be gathered and used to help get convictions. Members of law enforcement say there are times when this isn’t necessary and could only further jam up a system already dealing with a significant backlog.

“Every individual that comes forward and reports a crime should be heard, should be listened to and should be believed and all the evidence in the case be processed – a thorough investigation,” said Alana Kindness, the executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She said Friday that is their goal and the goal of all victims advocacy groups.

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University of Utah Law Student Charts Impressive Path of Public Service on Journey to Graduation

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Newswise — (May 12, 2016) —Nubia Peña grew up as the daughter of a single parent in Philadelphia, watching as her mother worked several jobs to provide for their family of five. As a young immigrant from Mexico adjusting to life in the U.S., Peña knew a path to success wasn’t going to be easy in her early years, but that didn’t stop her from eventually moving to Utah where this week she’ll become one of 122 students to graduate from the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.

A standout student, Peña was recently named as one of the top 25 law students in the country by National Jurist magazine for her commitment to social justice, empowering marginalized communities, and developing new young leaders of color.

“In many ways, I could have followed a path that was not one of excellence, triumph, or success. I could have become another statistic and failed to ever accomplish anything of great significance. I was, however, blessed with a mother who served as a phenomenal example of kindness, compassion, and service to those in need. She taught me the value of a strong work ethic and instilled in me a desire to advocate for those with less and to give my life to serving a meaningful and greater purpose,” said Peña, who will be recognized at Friday’s graduation ceremony, which takes place from 10 a.m. to noon at Kingsbury Hall, 1395 East Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City.

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Brigham Young University students who say they were sexually assaulted are finding themselves under investigation for possible violations of the Mormon school's code against sex and drinking

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By HALLIE GOLDEN, Associated Press

PROVO, Utah (AP) — Madeline MacDonald says she was an 18-year-old freshman at Brigham Young University when she was sexually assaulted by a man she met on an online dating site.

She reported the crime to the school's Title IX office. That same day, she says, BYU's honor code office received a copy of the report, triggering an investigation into whether MacDonald had violated the Mormon school's strict code of behavior, which bans premarital sex and drinking, among other things.

Now MacDonald is among many students and others, including a Utah prosecutor, who are questioning BYU's practice of investigating accusers, saying it could discourage women from reporting sexual violence and hinder criminal cases.

Some have started an online petition drive calling on the university to give victims immunity from honor code violations committed in the lead-up to a sexual assault.

This week, BYU announced that in light of such concerns, the school will re-evaluate the practice and consider changes.

"I hope we have a system that people feel they can trust, particularly again the victims of sexual assault," BYU President Kevin Worthen said in a video released Wednesday. "And that we have one that creates an environment in which we minimize the number of sexual assaults on campus."

BYU would not say how many students who complained of sexual violence have been investigated by the honor code office or whether any of them have been punished.

In MacDonald's case, she said BYU eventually called to tell her she hadn't violated the code. But she said she was made to feel guilty by the university.

"For those two weeks, I wasn't sure if they were going to decide to kick me out or what they were going to do," she said. Two years later, no arrest has have been made in the assault case.

Mary Koss, a public health professor at the University of Arizona who is an expert on sexual assault, questioned whether BYU is fulfilling its legal duty under federal Title IX to support victims of sexual violence.

"The students agreed to be governed by that honor code when they came there," she said. "But they cannot put things in their contract to students that are in violation of federal guidelines on civil rights."

Alana Kindness, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, warned: "The impact of that practice is that students at BYU who are sexually assaulted will not report that assault."

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Rape survivor advocates report increased number of women seeking services

eport on rape in Utah and the number of only 1 in 10 survivors of sexual assault reporting the crime quickly makes a haunting appearance. 

Back in January 2014, City Weekly  published a  cover story about how dismal both the numbers of complaints that were taken seriously by law enforcement were, and how even more dismal were the number of cases that actually made it to court. 

In the ensuing two and a half years, local papers and TV stations have pursued issues surrounding the testing of rape kits and rape culture in Utah that have brought pressure to bear on law enforcement and the state to both process kits faster and address the backlog of unprocessed kits.  

An additional and newly emerged development from the publicity is a substantial increase in the number of rape survivors coming forward to report their assaults. 

Clients of the Salt Lake City Rape Recovery Center have told RRC employees that news coverage, particularly about rape kits, whether positive or negative, was a factor in them seeking services. 

The RRC's executive director Mara Height says the demand for her agency's services by victims reporting rape at hospitals has grown since 2013. In an email, she writes, "In 2013, the Hospital Response Team provided 1,350 hours of hospital advocacy. In 2015, that number had risen to 1,923 hours; up 42.5 percent over two years. In 2016, continued growth is expected—with a 20 percent spike in hospital response services over 2015 rates as of 2/28/16."

Rape victim advocate Alana Kindness, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, says she isn't ready to speculate yet on what the increase means, noting that Wasatch Forensic (formerly Salt Lake Sexual Assault Nursing Examiners), which also responds to hospitals when a rape victim reports, in their case to conduct extensive forensic examinations called Code Rs, has also seen "a marked increase in the request for services. There's been a dramatic increase in the number of Spanish-speaking clients that they are working with as well." 

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Start By Believing Day promotes better response to sexual assault survivors

1680746.jpgSALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, and other Utah House Democrats joined advocates for victims of sexual assault on the Capitol steps Wednesday morning to promote awareness for Start By Believing Day.

During the 2015 Legislature, Romero sponsored HCR1, designating the first Wednesday in April as Start By Believing Day. The resolution expressed support for victims of sexual assault, as well as End Violence Against Women International's Start By Believing campaign.

After the Legislature passed the resolution, End Violence Against Women International adopted the day of observance and began promoting Start By Believing Day around the world, Romero said.

"The premise of the Start By Believing program is incredibly simple. It is for everybody in our community to consider how would you react if someone told you they were sexually assaulted or raped," said Julie Valentine, an assistant teaching professor at BYU's College of Nursing.

The goal, Romero said, is to transform victims into survivors.

Questions such as what the victim was wearing or whether they were drinking are not positive reactions, and they contribute to self-blame, Valentine said.

"When loved ones react negatively to a victim's disclosure of sexual assault, it has a damaging effect on victims over and above the impact of the sexual assault itself," she said.

"We want to make sure that nobody ever feels like a victim, that they become a survivor, and that people believe them and they get the help that they need," Romero said.

According to Romero, 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males in Utah will be sexually assaulted before age 18.

"We actually do have a higher rate of rape and sexual assault than the national average," said Alana Kindness, executive director of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Kindness said sexual assault rates in Utah have stayed the same or even increased, while most other types of violent crimes have steadily declined.

"We really need to start taking some really strong measures," Kindness said.

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Utah police chiefs speak out against bill that would limit role of victim advocates in sexual assault cases

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One Utah lawmaker is seeking to cut victim advocates out of court proceedings — a move police and prosecutors say would undermine prosecution of rape cases.

HB399, from Rep. LaVar Christensen, stipulates the advocates "are not part of a criminal prosecution and may not interfere with or undermine" defendants' rights. 

Sexual violence groups, lawmakers and police chiefs gathered Monday at the Capitol in part to criticize the measure, saying it would stymie efforts to help people recover from violent attacks and navigate the courts.

"There's a lot of pieces to this that are really damaging," said Alana Kindness, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).

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What's Being Done to Stop Child Trafficking in Utah?

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) - Imagine growing up thinking sex is a way of life. That's what human trafficking of children can cause victims to believe. Advocate groups in Utah claim it's not a problem found in Europe or Asia or other parts of the United States.  They know it's here in Utah too.

"I was probably 12-years old and met some friends of family," said Gina who didn't want her last name revealed. "He probably saw a vulnerable little girl and I was trafficked by him, by his sisters, his other brothers."

Gina is now a grown woman with children and grandchildren.  But her life journey was anything but easy.  As a middle school student Gina kept this dark secret to herself. She said her parents looked the other way. They were drug users.

"I think I was just supposed to [become trafficked]," she said. "That's what my body was for.  That was the obligation I was supposed to feel."

She said she was paid in drugs.

"I started using heroin," Gina said. "I did what every male told me to do."

According to the Center of Missing and Exploited Children there are currently about 300,000 under age children who are victims of human trafficking.  At a recent legislative hearing, state officials testified there's no firm data on the number of Utah kids being trafficked but they testified it exists.  Advocates point to recent statistics released by the Department of Public Safety as evidence of child human trafficking in Utah.

In 2013, there were 179 juveniles arrested for prostitution. In 2014, 242 were jailed.

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Huge Backlash Forces Group to Cancel Meetings

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) - A controversial writer has canceled international meetings after a backlash over the content. The meetings were promoting extreme male dominance over women among other things. Sexual assault advocacy groups say it's now putting more light on the problem of rape.

The meetings were going to be held in Salt Lake City and Provo. Supporters were asked to sing up and then go to a location. Once there they were supposed to use a secret password and get a real location for the meeting.

Late Wednesday organizer posted that the meeting was canceled because he could no longer guarantee people's privacy and safety.

For years the organizer has promoted masculine ideas including that women are not equal. He also wrote a post about solving rape by "make rape legal if done on private property."

Alana Kindness, the Executive Director of UCASA, thought the meetings were a joke. After she visited the site and saw those who were agreeing she realized how dangerous it could be.

"They are propagating that they have the right to use violence against women," said Kindness.

Marty Liccardo is the co-founder of Mens Anti Violence Network of Utah which helps support men, women and children who sexual assault victims. He said neo-masculine groups like these are nothing new. He is impressed with the amount of people outspoken against this group especially men.

"I think it's important to show a much larger group in our community think that it's inappropriate and not okay."

He notes the organizer is also an author who writes books on how to pick up women.

Advocates hope this will create a better conversation about the problem of sexual assault, and violence against people.

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


Utah can no longer afford a culture that perpetuates sexual violence

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Enough.

Enough of Utahns believing that women’s bodies are theirs to assault.

Enough of a state government that allows a rape culture to perpetuate itself, year after year, refusing to significantly invest in prevention.

Enough of abandoning rape victims, leaving them to struggle physically, emotionally, financially.

Utah can no longer avoid its rape problem. Or afford it.

The Utah Department of Health and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault released a report Wednesday showing that sexual violence cost the state nearly $5 billion in 2011, or nearly $1,700 per Utahn.

 

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Cost of Sexual Violence in Utah

It’s a staggering number. $4.9 billion dollars, that's how much money is spent in Utah every year to cope with sexual violence. The Utah Department of Health released that information Wednesday at the state capital. Good 4 Utah looked over the report to break down the cost of sexual violence.

After 5 years of intense research, the Utah Department of Health and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault now know the cost of sexual violence.

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