Testing every Utah rape kit is progress. But it needs to be fully funded

Rep. Angela Romero deserves her moment — she finally got Utah lawmakers to acknowledge the state’s sexual violence crisis.

When the Senate unanimously passed House Bill 200, requiring all rape kits to undergo testing at the state crime lab, the Salt Lake City Democrat described herself as “ecstatic.

"This is a victory for everyone when we talk about sex assault kits," Romero, the bill’s sponsor, said in a story carried by The Salt Lake Tribune. "The focus is usually on women, but men are also victims of sexual assault. It's important if someone goes through the [evidence-collecting] procedure, that they get the results."

But while it is a victory for everyone, it’s only a partial victory. Because the Legislature budgeted half the money needed for HB 200.

One in three Utah women will experience sexual violence during their lives, the state reports. Far too often, that’s rape — in a 2006 survey, 12 percent of Utah women said they’d experienced rape or attempted rape, the Utah Health Department reports.

And, as acknowledged by Romero, 2 percent of Utah men also reported the same experience.

As a result, Utah allowed a backlog of about 2,700 rape kits to accumulate through 2014. Some kits from Northern Utah dated back to 1999.

Lawmakers, briefly embarrassed by the scandal, established what became a pattern — they threw money at the crime lab, but not enough to test every rape kit.

In 2014 and 2015, the Legislature approved a total of nearly $3 million for rape kit testing. The Obama administration and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office chipped in another $1.4 million.

That allowed the crime lab to eliminate a third of its backlog. By the end of 2015, it still hadn’t touched 1,160 kits.

Jerry Henry, director of the state crime lab, said he expected the finish testing old kits by 2018. Now he faces the prospect of receiving a steady stream of new kits, thanks to HB 200.

HB 200 requires all state law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits to the state crime lab for DNA testing within 30 days of their collection. How quickly the lab must test those kits remains to be decided

Analysts estimated the crime lab would need an extra $2.4 million annually to handle the increased testing. Lawmakers provided $1.2 million.

So, while they agree the state shouldn’t allow another backlog to accumulate, lawmakers won’t fully fund testing for the hundreds of new kits that will flood the crime lab.

They’re laying the groundwork for another backlog.

Henry said with $2.4 million, he could’ve hired 17 analysts and test 800 kits a year. Now, he needs a year to see what’s possible.

"It may not be at the ideal turn-around time that we'd like to get to," he told Jessica Miller, a reporter for The Tribune. "But we'll certainly be in a lot better [position] than we are now."

In 2011 alone, sexual violence drained nearly $5 billion from the state economy, according to a report from the Utah Department of Health and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Compared to that, an additional $1.2 million in funding for the state crime lab is nothing. Lawmakers just didn’t want to spend the money.

Because they still don’t get it.

Utah’s rape rates exceeds national levels. It has increased 17.5 percent since 2013, the Utah Health Department reports.

But a state that does not quickly test DNA samples sends a message to rape victims: You’re not important.

Or in this case, you’re not worth the additional $1.2 million a year it would take to prevent a rape kit backlog.

If you live in fear you’ll be raped again by the same attacker, that’s your problem. And if he rapes someone else, too bad.

Because that $1.2 million is what matters. Not you.

Romero got the Legislature to acknowledge Utah’s sexual violence crisis, but she couldn’t convince them to aggressively address it. Not in 2017, anyway.

In 2018, Utah sexual assault victims and their families, friends and supporters need to press lawmakers to fully fund rape kit testing. When the Legislature finally coughs up that additional $1.2 million, then we can truly say it’s a victory for everyone.

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

Add your reaction Share

March Executive Director's Message

March marks the end of the 2017 legislative session. We have been very engaged on Capitol Hill working to create public policies that will support survivors of sexual violence. For the past seven weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to work side-by-side with advocates, activists, and community partners. I’m pleased to tell you that we have made remarkable progress on Capitol Hill. In short, we’ve passed legislation to mandate the testing, storage, and tracking of sexual assault kits; we succeeded in passing legislation that will provide confidentiality protections to victims of sexual violence on Utah’s college campuses; and we defeated several bills that would have caused real harm to survivors of sexual violence.

If the 2017 legislative session has taught us one thing, it’s that we are making significant progress in eliminating sexual violence in all of its forms in our community. Our friends, neighbors, and families are getting more engaged in our efforts and as a result our society is changing.

Our work is growing and we’ve launched 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 March 9-11, 18, and 25th we’re hosting our next 40-Hour Rape Advocacy Training at our office in Salt Lake City. This training gives sexual violence advocates the information and tools they need to handle calls from victims of sexual assault effectively and sensitively. Read more.

If your community isn’t on this list and you would like it to be, please reply to this email. Logan, Kaysville, and several other cities will recognize SAAM without hosting public events.

  • Our 4th Annual Sexual Violence Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment Conference is coming up on March 23rd and 24th. This conference will introduce new perspectives on the challenges we have been facing individually through our therapeutic, crisis intervention or criminal justice responses. Learn more.
  • In honor of National Professional Social Work Month on March 29th we’re hosting a panel discussion at the University of Utah called “Social Work and Sexual Violence”. This panel of social workers will discuss the critical role that social workers play in sexual violence prevention and intervention. Read more.  
  • We’ve been traveling the Wasatch Front conducting trainings in partnership with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) on Bystander Intervention. We’re utilizing the new curriculum developed by UDOH to conduct train-the-trainer events. Join us for one of our upcoming trainings: 

If you would like to request a training in your community, simply reply to this email.

  • Our next Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner 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 payment 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.

Take a moment to visit UCASA.org and get to know our organization.

Thank you for your support,

Turner C. Bitton
Executive Director

Add your reaction Share

Utah Lawmakers Look to Reform College Sex Assault Reporting

The Associated PressSALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers unanimously backed a bill on Thursday that would require college counselors to keep sexual abuse reports confidential, almost one year after Mormon-owned Brigham Young University faced a major backlash when it was revealed it shared assault victim information with its honor code office.

Lawmakers on a Senate law enforcement committee voted in favor of the proposal after a short discussion on how requiring confidentiality could help more victims feel comfortable reporting a sexual assault.

"This places the victim in control," said Julie Valentine, assistant nursing professor at BYU, during the meeting. "Rape takes away their control."

The proposal by Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, would also apply to student reports of domestic violence, sexual harassment and dating violence, and will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

Turner Bitton, of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, has said that 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.

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, which bans drinking and premarital sex, among other things.

The change came after an internal review found that the Title IX office on campus, established through a federal gender discrimination law known as Title IX that bars sexual harassment or a hostile education environment, sometimes shared victims' names and details of assaults with the honor-code office after investigations were completed.

At Utah State University in Logan, university officials last fall changed their confidentiality and amnesty policies to notify students which college officials provide confidential help and which college staff — including faculty — are required to report sex assaults.

The school's changes were part of its response to an investigation by The Salt Lake Tribune that reported numerous women had reported assault against the same football player but found little progress made their cases.

Earlier this week, lawmakers rejected a bill that would have allowed colleges to send some reports of sex assault to law enforcement without victims' consent.

The proposal by Republican Rep. Kim Coleman appeared dead after a tight vote in the House of Representatives amid concern that it would take control out of the hands of the victims and result in fewer students coming forward.

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

Add your reaction Share

How you can help stop child abuse in Washington County

Plenty of people have been in a situation where they've witnessed or suspected a child is being abused. Sometimes it's easily identifiable. Other times it's not.

Is what I just saw actually child abuse? What if I'm wrong and I report something false? How do I know for sure? What if this child is acting strangely for another reason?

The Washington County Children's Justice Center opened 249 investigations of child abuse in 2016 alone. That means 249 children were interviewed by a forensic interview specialist based on suspected or disclosed abuse they had experienced. At least 249 families — most likely more, since WCCJC Director Shelly Teeples says child abuse is grossly under-reported — had their family dynamics challenged by neglect, child sex abuse, child physical abuse or a combination of any child abuse in 2016.


In fact, the Division of Child and Family Services reported 408 total victims of child abuse in Washington County for 2016.

"I have seen cases of horrific child sex abuse and physical abuse come out of homes of highly-esteemed people in the community," Teeples said. "You can't sensationalize child abuse. It happens everywhere, across every socioeconomic background. It has no boundaries."

Read more
Add your reaction Share

If knowledge is power, then ignorance is STDs


Last week, Utah state legislators rejected a plan for comprehensive sexual education, insisting on maintaining an abstinence-based curriculum. In response, the pornography website xHamster started rerouting its visitors from Utah to their sexual education series called “The Box.” In a popup on the site, a message reads, “Utahns consume the most porn per capita of any state, but have some of the lowest levels of sexual education. We’re here to change that.”

This week, the University Journal Editorial Board tackled sexual education, discussing options for curricula in Utah alongside the effects of abstinence-only education. The general consensus was that sex ed should be comprehensive, as abstinence-only education is largely ineffective and detrimental. 

To begin, one member emphasized that abstinence-only education perpetuates silence and shame on the topic of sex, even though many are obsessed with it. Young people still have sex in Utah — they just don’t talk about it.

In 2010, 36 percent of all Utah pregnancies were unintended, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Unplanned pregnancy can occur with protected sex, but it’s more likely that a majority of these pregnancies were the result of unprotected sex. Furthermore, states with abstinence-only education (that includes Utah) have higher rates of STDs, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Utah’s excessive porn consumption demonstrates an obsession with sex despite lack of education on it. As teenagers aren’t getting comprehensive sex ed, they’re likely seeking answers elsewhere — and if that elsewhere is porn, the answers are rarely accurate. As several Board members pointed out, porn tends to propagate serious misconceptions about sex, such as those related to body image or sexual expectations.

A lack of education spreads further misconceptions, especially concerning consent. For example, in a Utah case where a young girl was raped by an acquaintance, a primary reason for the defendant’s acquittal was that the jury did not believe the victim could be raped by someone she knew, according to Utah County prosecutor Lauren Hunt for the Salt Lake Tribune. This is truly incredible, considering 82 percent of rape victims were assaulted by someone they knew, according to the Department of Justice. Perhaps proper education on consent could prevent this kind of ignorance-based injustice.

Furthermore, the Executive Director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault described experiences in which victims he worked with couldn’t label their sexual assault as assault or even say the word “vagina.” This illustrates the concept of shame and refusal to talk about sex, even when it is necessary to do so.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Campus sexual violence bill could change institutions' power in reporting

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.

Rep. Brian King, one of only two lawmakers who voted against the bill on Friday, worried less sexual assault cases would be reported if victims knew a college or university could tip the balance when it comes to maintaining 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.

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

Add your reaction Share

Committee passes bill that some say would discourage reports of campus sex assaults

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.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Vulgar Language, Dignified Deaths, Vetoes & Monuments

Vulgar Language

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
Add your reaction Share

How is the Legislature Handling Sexual Violence Issues?

Watch the video on ABC4Utah here.

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.

This piece originally appeared on ABC4Utah.com, click here to read the original piece. 

Add your reaction Share

Registered sex offender released on bail after allegedly raping elderly woman

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.

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

Add your reaction Share