Utah crime lab to speed up sexual assault testing

SALT LAKE CITY • Utah crime lab officials are optimistic they can reduce a backlog as they work to process over 500 sexual assault evidence kits. They hope to speed up the time it takes to test the kits, after lawmakers approved a measure last month that sends more than $1 million to go toward this effort.

Last year, a study released by Mormon-owned Brigham Young University found that Utah is so far behind in processing rape kits that only about one-third of the samples taken from 2010-2013 had been tested by the end of 2015. It also discovered that law enforcement takes about 60 percent longer than other parts of the country to send rape evidence to crime labs.

Jay Henry, of Utah's department of public safety crime laboratory, said on Thursday that the new measure has allowed the lab to start the process of hiring a handful of new forensic scientists to cut down on the time testing takes.

Unless law enforcement have determined that a kit needs to be analyzed urgently because of a looming court case or a public safety threat, the evidence can take more than a year to be processed, said Henry. His goal is to reduce that time to only 30 days.

The measure approved during the 2017 session requires law enforcement to send sexual assault kits to the lab within 30 days. Bill sponsor Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, has said that the requirement would not take effect until 2018 in order to give the state crime lab time to work through the kits it currently has.

The law also requires that by next year the lab must launch an online tracking system for sexual assault evidence kits, so that victims can keep tabs on the status of their case.

"That type of infrastructure will be great for the healing of survivors and for making sure the process moves quicker," said Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Bitton called the law a "landmark step" when it comes to fighting sexual violence in the state.

The proposal was expected to send about $2 million toward improving the sexual assault evidence processing, but legislators opted to approve only half that amount, said Henry. He said he expects them to reconsider the funding next year once they see how the program is doing.

Bitton said the funding is enough to help make the program successful, and that it "will go a long long way in ensuring that every victim and every survivor gets justice."

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

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Women’s Leadership Summit at the U Gives Participants an Empowering Opportunity to Learn and Network

Over 100 students, staff and community members attended the Women’s Leadership Summit (WLS), an event aimed to empower participants through discussions centered around the theme, “Her: Story, Movement, Life.” The summit, which has taken place annually for a number of years, was organized by the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and Student Leadership & Involvement.

Summit co-chair Kim Hall, Associate Director of WRC, said her vision is to provide a space for young women to have and express ideas that stem from their different orientations on life, encouraging women to “celebrate the life we’re living and creating.”

Tasha Myers, Director of Student Leadership & Involvement and co-chair of WLS, talked about the significance of the three keywords — story, movement and life — as the “phases of a woman.” “Story” relates to life “from her perspective,” “movement” represents advocacy as an individual and a community, and “life” constitutes a woman’s “span of experiences.” Though the theme of the summit is geared toward women, Myers stressed that men are welcome and that the event is designed to explore intersectionality while moving the needle on women’s issues.

Myers also emphasized the importance of the U’s Women’s Enrollment Initiative, a program designed to retain women at the university and open up academic and career opportunities.

The summit kicked off with an enthusiastic introduction from Ruth Watkins, Vice President of Academic Affairs. Watkins told the audience that it is a “bad idea to wait for perfect,” and that women should seize the moment and think past their target to develop a strategy to get there.

The event took cues from TEDx talks, with keynote speakers setting the tone before breaking into smaller discussions. The keynote addresses were delivered by Irene Maya Ota, Lynne Roberts and Nubia Peña.

Roberts, head coach of the U’s women’s basketball team, elaborated on the theme of “her life.” Roberts emphasized a quality she referred to as “grit,” or in her words, “the ability to push a boulder up a hill.” As a woman in a role traditionally filled by a man, Roberts had enlightening advice for summit attendees, underscoring the need to work harder than male colleagues to attain personal success. She advised women to find mentors and to work with one another to achieve their dreams while seizing opportunities and blazing their own trail.

Peña received her Juris Doctorate from the U College of Law in 2016. Peña has worked extensively with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault and serves as an advocate for the rights of youth in detention at the Utah Juvenile Defenders Office. Speaking to “her story,” Peña challenged women to “own your space, and stop giving people a reason to take away your power.” Reflecting on her own challenged youth, she counseled the audience to seek out their passion in life while defining success on individual terms. Peña ended her talk with an uplifting call-and-response exercise that moved participants into more intimate breakout meetings.

Topics addressed in the smaller sessions varied widely, from politician and Women’s Leadership Institute CEO Pat Jones’ discussion on why women should run for office, to model and skier Sierra Quitiquit’s dialogue on beauty standards and body image. Krista Parry, the Senior Vice President of Powdr Corp., echoed Peña’s message of self-defined success, urging her group to “fake it ’til you make it.”

Attendees took a positive message away from the summit. When asked why they chose to attend, Naba, a senior in the Urban Ecology and Planning major, and Asma, a staff member at the School of Business, highlighted the networking opportunities and inspiration that comes from meeting like-minded individuals. Both enjoyed a workshop presented by Libia Marqueza Castro titled “Fighting Impostor Syndrome,” about not being afraid to be yourself and pursuing what you want. Both said they are eager to attend the summit next year.

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

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Utah students host SlutWalk to change conversation about sexual assault

"Consent culture is the antidote to rape culture," Ph.D. student Coco James said during a rally aimed at changing attitudes toward rape at the University of Utah. 

A couple of dozen students united by a sociology course organized Tuesday afternoon's SlutWalk — a movement that began in 2011 after a Canadian police officer told students at a Toronto campus that women should "avoid dressing like sluts" to avoid being victimized. 

Victim-blaming and teaching abstinence-only discourages people from reporting, or makes them feel "dirty," said Autumn Barney.

"If we can change the conversation and change education and bring more awareness to the issue, hopefully we can start changing the culture here in Utah," said Barney, who is a student in the sociology class and a member of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

She and fellow students organized the event as a project for the "Social Movements" course, but students uninvolved with the course also walked with posters saying things such as, "Don't judge yourself by what others did to you," and, "Nothing is as sexy as a yes," as Clara Somers shouted through a megaphone, "We need your voice because this will not be resolved with apathy." 

Joe Massey isn't in the class, but showed up to support the cause. As the president of Phi Delta Theta at the U., he is aware of the stereotype surrounding fraternities and sexual assault. The culture is changing, he said, but some frats still use stories of partying and girls to recruit.

That isn't the case at Utah, said Massey, where the frats aren't allowed to have alcohol at recruitment events, or use girls to recruit members.

The students also used Tuesday's walk to get people's attention and advertise for a lecture series on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the J. Willard Marriott Library, entitled Start by Believing. During the series, students will share personal experiences, and resources will be available to students who have been raped.

"A lot of people don't know where to go, how reporting works, and who to go to, and who you can go to as a confidential reporter versus a mandatory reporter," said Bella Paolucci.

Mandatory reporters, such as faculty, legally have to report sexual assaults. But students can seek advice and resources from and talk to confidential reporters ­— licensed counselors and victim advocate, for example ­— before deciding whether to report assault.

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

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Ogden sexual violence intervention workshop will create better bystanders

T-shirts with personal messages about sexual violence line the pavilion at Big Dee Sports Park where Your Community Connection held its annual Sexual Assault Awareness Walk on April 9, 2016, in Ogden.

OGDEN — Learn how to identify and step in during situations involving sexual violence at a free intervention workshop Tuesday in Ogden. 

Bystander Intervention Training will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at Weber State University’s downtown campus at 2314 Washington Blvd. The goal of bystander intervention education is to “encourage community members to take action in situations that signal risk for sexual violence, from countering verbal harassment, to finding safe ways to intervene if witnessing sexual assault,” according to a press release from Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. 

Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault is co-hosting the workshop with Your Community ConnectionUtah Department of Health’s Violence and Injury Prevention Program and the American Democracy Project at WSU.

“Bystander strategies increase a person’s confidence in their ability to intervene, reduce victim blaming attitudes, and strengthen intervention skills so bystanders will put thought into action,” the press release says. 

Those strategies include being able to define and identify harm, violence and bystander intervention opportunities; learning skills and behaviors to prevent harm or violence; and understanding why it’s important to get involved.

For more information, visit www.ucasa.org/calendar. 

Reach digital producer Jessica Kokesh at 801-625-4229 or [email protected] You can also follow her on Twitter at @JessicaKokesh or Facebook.com/ByJessKokesh.

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

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SlutWalk Planned Outside Marriott Library

Through a course being offered by the University of Utah, a number of students have spent the semester planning and organizing action against sexual assault. On Tuesday, April 4, they will host a “SlutWalk” on campus to bring awareness to the issue as it relates to women.

SlutWalks are part of a global movement of women’s activism that began after a Toronto Police officer said that women could prevent sexual assaults by “avoid[ing] dressing like sluts.” This remark led to widespread outrage and protest. SlutWalk participants are encouraged to dress however they deem fit, be it in underwear, a skimpy dress or a swimsuit.

Students in “Social Movements,” a sociology course taught by associate professor Wade Cole, have worked alongside community groups, including the Road Home and Women’s Resource Center, to plan a march that they hope will empower women and men to challenge stigmas about assault and rape culture.  

The message being sent by SlutWalk participants is that no matter what someone is wearing, sexual assault is not okay. The march, which will include remarks from those who have personal experience will assault, is aimed at making it easier for victims to talk about their traumas. 

Tuesday’s walk will take place at the Marriott Library Plaza at 12:30 p.m. The event will include a keynote speech from Turner Bitton, Executive Director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Prior to the march, there will be a poster-making session outside of the library at 11:30 a.m.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Utah Chronicle. Click here to read the original article.

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April Executive Director's Message

Each year the month of April is recognized across the country as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. By working together and pooling our resources during the month of April, we can highlight sexual violence as a major public health, human rights, and social justice issue and reinforce the need for prevention efforts. Over a dozen communities throughout the state have designated April as SAAM including Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Ogden, Logan, Summit County, and Kaysville.

We’re making April a month of membership and community, celebrating the incredible work that advocates, survivors, and professionals across the state are doing to end sexual violence. Help us recognize the incredible individuals and organizations that are making a difference across the state. Click here to nominate them today for a SAAM award!

After you’ve made your nomination, take a moment to purchase tickets to the 2017 Sexual Assault Awareness Month Awards Party. Zions Bank has will host this celebration of our work to end sexual violence. Join colleagues, friends, and other advocates from across the state to recognize our awardees. Tickets are only $25 and include food, drinks, and a great night of entertainment and celebration. Click here to get your ticket today.

In keeping with our theme of membership and community, we’ve created a new membership program called the Vanguard Network. This network is designed for community members and other interested individuals to support our statewide efforts to end sexual violence. If you like the work we’re doing, please consider joining the Vanguard Network by clicking here.

Our members are the backbone of our efforts and power the work that we’re doing in communities across the state. Here are the things that our members are helping us accomplish:

  • On April 4th, we’re co-hosting a Bystander Intervention workshop with YCC, the Utah Department of Health Violence and Injury Prevention Program, and the American Democracy Project at Weber State University. Read more.
  • On April 14th, we want to buy you lunch and report back on the successes we made during the legislative session. Please join us and our guest Representative Angela Romero, to debrief the legislative session. We’re providing lunch and hope you’ll join us to debrief the most successful legislative session in recent memory.  Read more.
  • On April 20th, the Davis County CARES (Community Allied Resources to End Sexual Violence) Coalition is having a meeting. CARES is an effort that began in Davis County in April of 2016 with the intention of preventing sexual violence. Read more.

  • On April 24th, we are hosting The Identity Project: An Evening of Healing and Art with the Davis County CARES Coalition and Safe Harbor Crisis Center. Through this workshop, participants will focus on their identity as humans through writing, painting, and drawing. Read more.

  • On April 28th, as we mentioned above we’re hosting a the SAAM Awards Party. Join us for a night of fun, food, and friends as we recognize leaders in Utah’s sexual violence field. Read more.  

  • On May 6th we’ll close out SAAM with our annual Fearless 5K. Now in its third year, the Fearless 5K raises critical funds to support the life changing work of UCASA and serves as a source of inspiration and hope for advocates and survivors of sexual assault alike. Read more.
  • Lastly, our next Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) training has been scheduled for September 7-9th in Provo. Learn more.

This is only a small portion of what we are doing and we hope that you’ll join us. Our work is powered by our membership program. Join us on the next step of our journey by becoming a member of our newly formed Vanguard Network. By making a monthly membership contribution to UCASA, you are joining the local movement to end sexual violence. Our members include community leaders with a wide range of interests, backgrounds, and experience working to combat sexual violence-related issues. By joining this month, you’ll receive a free ticket to both the SAAM Awards Party and the Fearless 5K.

Thank you for your support,

Turner C. Bitton
Executive Director
[email protected]
(801) 746-0404 Ext. 1

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Bystander intervention class scheduled at USU

A bystander intervention training class, empowering people to not stand idly by if they sense a situation that could lead to sexual assault or rape, is set for Utah State University on Thursday.

The class — supported by USU Students for Choice, the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault and other groups — will be from 6 to 9 p.m. March 30 in Old Main, Room 326, according to a news release from UCASA.

Turner Bitton, executive director of UCASA, talked about why his organization is sponsoring the class.

“The most important thing for us is making sure we create a culture that rewards intervention, that protects and prevents sexual violence,” Bitton said.

The class is not just for the USU campus community; everyone is welcome, organizers say.

“It’s for all community members to learn how to take action when you see something that might be a risk for sexual violence, what to say if there’s verbal harassment,” said Jasmine Despain, president of USU Students for Choice, a club on campus associated with Planned Parenthood that advocates safe sex. “With that, you can make it safer for everyone, use your voice to create action.”

Participants of the class will come away with several tools: “Be able to define and identify harm and violence; be able to define and identify bystander intervention opportunities; skills and behaviors to prevent harm or violence; understand and be able to articulate what harm and bystander intervention are and why it is important to get involved,” according to the UCASA statement.

Leading the class is Marty Liccardo, men’s engagement specialist with the Utah Department of Health, with a focus on the newly released Bystander Intervention Curriculum, “Upstanding: Stepping Up to Prevent Violence in Utah.”

“The reason we’re using (Liccardo) is this is actually a training the trainer training, where folks can be certified to then go on to be a facilitator of this training in their community,” Bitton said.

Bitton said the USU meeting will be the first such class supported by UCASA held at a higher education institution in Utah, but other classes have been held in conjunction with university programs. Salt Lake Community College and Weber State University will likely see bystander intervention courses with support from UCASA in the future.

“We are focused on getting young people involved, but the reason we locate these around universities is because we get a very diverse group of people,” Bitton said.

The bystander intervention class comes the same year USU launched the “I Will” campaign, an effort created by USU officials to get members of the university community to commit to bystander intervention.

That campaign follows another one USU officials organized in the fall, called, “Consent Is,” teaching students about what defines consensual sex.

Both campaigns are part of USU’s efforts to improve sexual violence prevention and response. USU was rocked last summer with allegations from multiple women — some of them students — who accused former Aggie linebacker Torrey Green. Some of the alleged victims criticized the way USU and law enforcement handled their complaints.

Green is due in First District Court in Logan this week, with hearing scheduled for Wednesday through Friday.

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

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Voters skeptical of concealed gun law as protection for sex-assault victims

When Utah state Rep. Karianne Lisonbee drafted her bill to lower the age for obtaining a concealed-weapon permit from 21 to 18, she had one group in mind: college-age women.

"They want to be able to defend themselves from rape on college campuses," she explained during the legislative session.

Now the bill has been signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert, but there's one hitch. A majority of Utah women don't actually support it.

While most registered voters in the state — 60 percent — opposed HB198, women disliked the measure by more than a two-to-one margin — 69 percent to 27 percent — according to a Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

Among men, the split was a much closer 52 percent opposed to 47 percent in favor.

The survey among 605 registered Utah voters was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates March 15-21. It has a margin of error of 3.98 percentage points.

Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, doesn't give too much weight to those numbers, noting that of "the women that I've heard from, the vast majority of them support the bill." Additionally, she introduced the legislation after the issue was brought to her attention by three young women who wanted to be able to better protect themselves.

She has since heard from "many, many more" that back the initiative.

"A gun is a great equalizer," Lisonbee said.

She suggests that were a woman in a situation where she may potentially be attacked, having a concealed weapon could improve the outcome of the situation.

"Studies have shown that the more forceful the resistance, the less likely the completion of a rape will be," Lisonbee added.

Although Utah law allows Utahns as young as 18 to purchase, possess and openly carry guns, the state has previously banned concealed carry by anyone under age 21. Lisonbee said that has prevented most young women from carrying guns as a protection against sexual violence.

The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault did not take a position on the measure this past session, but Executive Director Turner Bitton said he doesn't see it reducing the number of sexual assaults.

That argument "is presupposing that rapists target someone when they are at their best," Bitton said. "Anyone who works with victims knows that rapists are opportunistic."

Most rapes occur when a victim feels safe and secure, he added, and "that environment is not conducive to a riot shield and a shot gun." If a firearm provides a woman a sense of security, Bitton said he would never tell her not to carry it. But in the grand scheme of things, he said this will likely not prevent a significant number of assaults.

One of the respondents to the Tribune-Hinckley survey, Leslie Parkhurst, 58, of Fruit Heights, opposes expansion of the concealed-weapon permit. She denounced Lisonbee's reasoning, calling it "a very weak argument for having a gun."

Parkhurst fears that a would-be attacker could wrest a weapon from a woman during an assault and turn it against her. Instead, she proposes that college-age women carry pepper spray.

As a mother of five, Parkhurst said, she wouldn't have wanted any of her children, now grown, to have carried a gun at 18 years old.

"They're too young," she said. "That's beyond reasonable. It really makes me angry."

Heather Porter, 46, of West Jordan, also opposed the bill, saying "I really doubt that it's going to prevent any violence."

But Drew Ferwerda wishes he had a gun with him when he was nearly carjacked some 20 years ago. The 58-year-old from St. George had been in the vehicle with his two daughters when someone tried to break in. Luckily, he says, the family was able to drive away to shield themselves from the situation. He would've done things differently today, though.

Ferwerda doesn't always carry now, but sometimes takes a gun with him for protection — and thinks young women should, too.

"You're pretty much an adult at 18," he said.

Some survey respondents suggested that young individuals carrying a weapon on a college campus could prevent a mass shooting, while others indicated impulsiveness at that age could result in more deaths.

The bill takes effect May 9. Herbert did not issue a statement on signing the measure and was unavailable for comment Friday.

During the session, Lisonbee acknowledged the arguments against the bill, but ultimately pushed forward with it.

"It will not prevent every rape of a woman who is armed," she said at the time. "But it clearly results in a dramatic reduction of her risk and is therefore an option that all Utah women should have."

Reporter Alex Stuckey contributed to this report.

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

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Bystander Intervention Training coming to USU to assist victims of sexual violence

Coming up on March 30th at Utah State University, the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, along with CAPSA and USU’s SAAVI (Sexual Assault & Anti-Violence Information) office will sponsor what is known as Bystander Intervention Training. On KVNU’s For the People program, Coalition Executive Director Turner Bitton told host Jason Williams what this type of training is about.

“Bystander Intervention Training seeks to train folks to know how to intervene in those situations. Because it’s not always appropriate to jump in as a ‘knight in shining armor’ or even as an individual bystander to jump in and insert yourself into a situation,” he explained.

Bitton said the best way to help someone who has been victimized by sexual violence is to say the words “I am here for you”, “I believe you and I support you”, or "I will help you get the resources you need". He said even if you're not a full-time trained advocate, the words "I believe you" are life-changing.

Bitton said, unfortunately, upwards of 88% of sexual violence (whether it's rape, intimate partner rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment) in the state of Utah is not reported either to friends, family, law enforcement or advocates. He’s hoping the training can change that. Again, the training will be next Thursday at 6 p.m. in Room 236 in Old Main. You can get more information and RSVP at www.ucasa.org

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

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Sexual Assault Bystander Training Held Next Week

The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA) is hosting a Bystander Intervention Training at the Utah State University campus. The coalition joined forces with Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse (CAPSA), and the Utah State University Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information (SAVVI) office to host the training.

UCASA executive director Turner Bitton says the training is to help empower bystanders to act.

"What bystander intervention does is it trains individuals to have the skills to both be aware of these situations and to intervene in a proactive and positive way," he said. “It’s about developing skill sets for individuals to be able to intervene in situations where they think sexual and domestic violence is going to occur.”

Bitton said finding safe and positive ways to intervene is key to preventing sexual violence.

“The reality is that intervening and being a bystander is a lot harder than just ‘yeah, if I saw someone taking someone who was too drunk home, I would stop that,'" he said. "I think all of us think that, but in terms of having the skills to do that without potentially causing an explosive situation is why we’re doing the training.”

The first training is next week, and additional trainings will be held to build skills and role play specific circumstances. Similar intervention trainings are being held across the state. The training is open to the public on Thursday, March 30, 2017 at 6 - 9p.m. at Old Main on Utah State University campus.

This piece originally appeared on upr.org. Click here to read the original article.

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