Utah sex ed needs attention, legislators say, but abstinence angle will continue

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls.jpegUtah 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.

Students are currently enrolled in those courses by default, with parents allowed to remove their child by notifying the school. Without a committee vote, the bill is significantly less likely to advance through the Legislature.

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.

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It shouldn't take 2 years for the Utah crime lab to test a rape kit. Pass HB 200


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.

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Utah’s Rape Culture is Disastrous


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.

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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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February Executive Director's letter

With the 2017 legislative session and we’re heavily engaged on Capitol Hill creating public policies that will support the needs of survivors of sexual violence. For the month, we have had the opportunity to work side-by-side with advocates, families, and communities to support public policies to eliminate and intervene in sexual violence in our communities. We have had some success and some defeats but one thing is clear, we are making progress on Capitol Hill.

As the Executive Director at UCASA, my responsibilities include building a strong foundation for a vibrant and relevant coalition capable of supporting important legislation dedicated to create better responses to sexual violence and preventing it from occurring in our community.

I want to provide some reassurance to those of you out there who are concerned about national political and legislative developments. We will always be here; our work continues and we remain as optimistic about a future free from sexual violence as we have ever been. In fact, our work is growing and our organization is expanding to meet the needs of our communities. Utah is taking proactive steps to support the needs of every survivor and create public policies to ensure justice to every survivor.

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Take time to speak up against sexual assault


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.

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


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.

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Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault to host press conference on pending sexual violence legislation

Salt Lake City, Utah, January 30, 2017 – The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault will host a Sexual Violence Citizen Advocacy Training at the Utah State Capitol followed by a press conference announcing the organization’s legislative priorities and agenda for the 2017 legislative session.

Attendees of the Advocacy Day will receive updates about upcoming legislation related to sexual violence. Our presenters will also share tips on how to contact elected officials and how citizens can ensure that their voices are heard throughout the legislative session. Additional information about legislation being supported by UCASA will be provided to attendees.

Event organizers will hold a press conference to discuss the ongoing efforts to prevent interpersonal violence in Utah at 11:30 am in the Capitol Rotunda. Speakers will include UCASA’s Executive Director of Turner C. Bitton, Representative Angela Romero, Kristin Hodson a supporter of HB215, Deondra Brown who will express opposition to HB137. Nearly one in three Utah women will experience some sort of sexual violence during their lives. Utah’s incidences of rape exceed the national average; yet, only an estimated 12% of Utah rape victims ever report the offense to law enforcement. Finally, nearly 79% of victims reported that their first sexual assault occurred when they were under 18 years old; while more than 91 % of victims were attacked by someone they knew, including friends and acquaintances.

Additional biographical information and timeline information about the Sexual Violence Advocacy Training and press conference are available below. 

# # #

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Turner C. Bitton at (801) 564-3860 or email at [email protected].

Timeline of event for January 30th, 2017:

8:00 to 8:30 - Networking / Refreshments

8:30 to 10:00 - Sexual Violence Basics / Lobbying Overview

  • Sexual Violence 101 – Julie Stephenson (30 min)
  • State Agency Introductions
    • Ned Searle CCJJ (9-9:10)
    • Marty Liccardo UDOH (9:10-9:20)
    • Gary Scheller UOVC (9:20-9:30)
    • Citizen Lobbying (30 minutes)

10:00 to 10:30 - 2017 Session Preview / Issues & Trends

  • House Bill 200 (Representative Romero)
  • House Bill 215 (Representative King)
  • Confidentiality Legislation (Turner C. Bitton)
  • Appropriation Request (Turner C. Bitton)
  • Additional Legislation to Watch (Turner C. Bitton)
  • Questions (Turner C. Bitton) 

10:30 to 11:30 - Capitol Tour and contacting legislators (Alana and Julie)

11:30 to 12 – Press Conference

  • Welcome (Turner C. Bitton 2min)
  • Prevention, why we ask for money (Jessica Burnham 5min)
  • HB200 (Rep. Romero 5-10min)
  • HB215 (Kristin Hodson 5-10min)
  • Confidentiality Legislation (Turner C. Bitton 5min)
  • HB137 (Deondra Brown 5min)
  • Closing and Questions (Turner C. Bitton) 

 Participants in press conference at 11am:

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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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