As new accusations continue to be reported every day — across the world and here at Utah State University — leaders of an on-campus club have urged caution against jumping to conclusions regarding sexual assault.
During the fall 2017 semester, a politically conservative club distributed flyers on USU’s Logan campus advocating for people who, according to the flyer, were “falsely accused of sexual assault.”
Young Americans for Freedom, a USU Student Association-sanctioned club and a branch of a nationwide organization, promotes traditional values and free speech, said club president Taylor Cripe.
While Cripe acknowledged sexual assault as a major problem that deserves attention, she said it’s important to acknowledge that men’s lives are sometimes ruined by being falsely accused of sexual assault.
“That’s a serious crime to be falsely accused of,” Cripe said. “We think it’s important to see both sides of that — the women who have been abused, but also the men who have been falsely accused.”
Turner Bitton, the executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said this message may actually discourage victims from reporting.
“Every time a survivor sees something like ‘falsely accused’ or ‘liar,’” he said, “it puts an icy chill on our efforts to get folks to come forward who have been victimized by sexual assault.”
Bitton also expressed concern over the statistics cited on the YAF flyer. It cites data from an academic study claiming that 2 to 10 percent of sexual assault reports are false, and that more than 40 percent are unsubstantiated.
“They’re essentially indicating that they believe up to 40 percent are false accusations,” he said, “which is ‘provably false,’ to use their language.”
According to the USU Department of Public Safety’s 2017 campus security report, of all crimes reported on-campus from 2014 to 2016 only two of 84 were declared unfounded, meaning they were “found to be false or baseless” by law enforcement officials. This statistic does not include arrests for drug, alcohol or firearm possession.
While Bitton acknowledged the 2 to 10 percent figure is technically correct according to the study, he said the number of false reports is often inflated because different states and law enforcement entities have different ways of categorizing and defining false accusations. Some may classify a lack of sufficient evidence as a false report, while others may do the same if the survivor chooses not to testify in court.
“These statistics that basically reinforce the societal narrative that people who accuse others of sexual misconduct are lying,” he said. “It sends an icy message through the community that if you come forward as a sexual assault survivor, you’re not going to be believed.”
Bitton said the coalition has a campaign called “Start by Believing,” which promotes the idea that if someone discloses to you that they were the victim of sexual assault, “your only job is to start by believing.”
Cripe and YAF vice president Parker Jackson say otherwise.
“The legal system says innocent until proven guilty,” Jackson said. “We like to give people presumption of innocence until there’s compelling evidence, one way or the other.”
Jackson and Cripe also said college campuses have a problem of not giving the accused parties due process.
“Even if falsely accused,” their flyer reads, “universities often take disciplinary action without granting you your constitutional rights to due process.”
Bitton, however, said this is not the case, and that universities are required by law to represent both students – the complainant and the respondent – equally in all investigations.
“I can speak to my personal experience with Utah State,” Bitton said, “that the school is very committed to representing the rights of both people.”
Cripe said the club’s flyers were approved by the university to be distributed and placed on the information desk in the Taggart Student Center, but they did receive some backlash on Facebook when they posted the images. She was fine with that though, and said she is willing to have an open conversation about it with anyone.
“If we had been denying that women are sexually assaulted, then you would have fair grounds to be a bit more defensive,” she said. “But to pretend like there isn’t a problem with men being falsely accused of sexual assault is not fair to the question.”
While the issue of sexual assault has stirred up some controversy, it is not the club’s main focus. They promote traditional values, conservatism and capitalism. Their meetings are held every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in room 335 of the TSC, and are open to the public.
The “very best” prevention method, Bitton said, is affirmative consent and constant communication in sexual and dating relationships. He also said a “consistent ethic of consent” needs to develop in all relationships.
However, Bitton said the biggest responsibility for prevention falls on a specific group of people.
“At the end of the day, the person who is most responsible for preventing sexual assault is the person who commits the sexual assault or harassment,” Bitton said.
Sexual assault resources for USU students:
- To report misconduct contact the USU Title IX office which can be reached at (435) 797-1266
- For confidential counseling, the SAAVI and CAPS office are free to students and can be reached at (435)-797-7273 and (435)-797-1012 respectively.
SALT LAKE CITY — A bill which would have allowed universities to report sexual assault cases to police without the victim’s permission failed Monday amidst heavy opposition, including from BYU students and faculty.
HB254 was tabled Monday morning after the bill’s sponsor Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, failed to make it to the hearing. Since the bill’s introduction, over 50 victim advocate groups including Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, RAIN, Safe Campus LLC and the National Women’s Law Center voiced their opposition.
The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault held a press conference following the hearing to address what is next.
BYU forensic nurse professor Julie Valentine opposed HB254. She has been instrumental in reforming BYU’s Title IX implementation and also serves on national committees developing best practice guidelines for eradicating sexual assault at universities.
“On the surface, House Bill 254 might seem like a good approach to addressing campus sexual violence, but it is not,” Valentine said. “Every victims’ rights organization in Utah and over 50 national campus and victims’ rights organization oppose HB254.”
According to Valentine, taking the power from victims of reporting their own sexual assault will not encourage others to come forward, and when victims cannot come forward, they are unable to receive the help they need and deserve.
BYU sophomore Olivia Whiteley also testified against the bill after coming across HB254 while researching Utah’s Statute of Limitations.
Upon her discovery, Whiteley immediately wrote a letter to The Salt Lake Tribune which voiced her opposition to the legislation and chronicled some of her experiences being a first responder to her friend’s rape.
Whiteley’s piece was published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the sophomore was asked to testify for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault shortly after.
After reading her statement at the Monday morning press conference, Whiteley said she felt stressed.
“Reliving those experiences and knowing that someone that you really care about has been violated in such an intimate way and been disrespected like that,” Whiteley said. “That physically actually hurts you.”
While Whiteley was glad the bill effectively failed, she was disappointed that Coleman didn’t show up for the hearing. She said she appreciates the intent behind what Coleman is trying to do but, “if you aren’t willing to listen to victims, survivors or advocates it’s not going to help.”
Whiteley said BYU has taken big strides in past years to ensure victim-centered practices are put in place, and she she hopes it will continue to improve.
“We also need men to get involved in learning about consent and participating in consent advocacy or participating in the women’s studies program,” Whiteley said. “Because I feel this is not just about women. It’s a men’s issue since men are usually the ones who are perpetrators of sexual assault. Preventing sexual assault is something everyone should care about.”
As a social worker, victim advocate, college freshman and rape victim, Amy Jo Curtis also opposed the bill.
“I know what’s it like to be a college student and have to deal with the everyday struggle of dealing with those inner demons, and I know what it’s like to advocate for those same people,” Curtis said.
After she returned to school, Curtis said she received university services which helped her feel safe on campus again, but coming forward needed to be on her own terms.
“I didn’t know who to go to or how to talk to anybody. It took me two years to tell anybody and it took me almost three years to tell my parents,” Curtis said. “It needs to be on the victim’s time because if I was pushed it would have completely fallen apart.”
Curtis added that if HB254 had been in place at her university she would never have come forward to university services.
The bill continues to pop up each legislative session, but this time it made it further than before, which deeply concerns Curtis.
“If this bill comes back every year as has happened, it will make it so victims are re-victimized every time it comes up,” Curtis said.
The bill’s main argument is that Title IX doesn’t provide enough protections, but Curtis said she believes it does.
“The Title IX document goes on continuously to reiterate that the trust of the victims and future victims is most important,” Curtis said. “Trauma-informed care sees that validation and empowerment are key when responding to the victim. What’s most important are the victims’ needs.”
Curtis said future victims of rape are watching how universities respond to sexual assault now.
Since BYU changed to trauma-informed practices there has been a 400 percent increase in reported cases, according to Curtis.
“The good thing about BYU and the 400 percent increase of reports is we now know who those rapists are,” Curtis said. “We didn’t before because people didn’t trust the state of the office. Sure, we can’t prosecute them, but campus cops can keep an eye out for them.”
Turner C. Bitton, the executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said he considers HB254 to be “an incredibly regressive piece of legislation.”
“Victims advocates across the country, across the state and in the local area all recognize that giving power and control, giving confidentiality back to victims of sexual assault, is the right way forward and HB254 is the wrong way,” Bitton said.
If HB254 comes back next year, the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault said they will be ready.
CAPITOL HILL – Advocates for sexual assault victims are claiming victory after a senate committee tabled a bill involving the reporting of sexual assaults on college campuses.
“The Utah Coalition is very happy today,” said Turner C. Bitton, Exec. Dir. Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
With time running out this legislative session, lawmakers tabled HB 254. The bill would have allowed a Utah college or university to report sexual assaults on campus to police – even if it’s against the victim’s wishes.
“It sends a message that your voices matter,” said Bitton.
Advocates say victims aren’t always ready to come forward and this bill would have perpetuated the problem.
“We get one shot to take our perpetrators down,” said Amy Jo Curtis, victim advocate.
The bill’s sponsor Representative Kim Coleman R-West Jordan, did not want to appear on camera for an interview, but sent the following statement to Fox 13:
“The bill to clarify schools may engage law enforcement when there is an articulable and significant risk to campus safety was not heard in committee this morning due to my being scheduled to present two bills at the same time. Opponents of the bill believe that a single complainant should have a veto over the school protecting other students, which is contrary to current law. We need to ask ourselves if we intend to keep law enforcement on the sidelines no matter how dangerous a known perpetrator appears to be. The practice of unqualified school officials handling these cases internally has resulted in a tragic number of victims who almost never find justice and a horrific number of sexual perpetrators who have found sanctuary on our college campuses."
“This bill is consistent with recommendations and cautions from both the 2014 letter to the White House and the recent response to our Legislature.”
BYU sophomore Olivia Whitely opposed the bill. “I've had a lot of conversations with friends who have been sexually assaulted," she said.
She says administrators have made strides to handle sexual assault cases on campus with care and confidentiality. The bill would have been a setback.
“I definitely think there's more we can do, especially on ensuring we have a campus culture that is friendly toward consent and encourages consent before anything else," Whitely said.
Opponents aren’t resting easy though. They say if the bill comes back next year, in any form, they’ll be ready to fight.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A campus sexual assault bill appears to be dead after advocates raised concerns it could involve police in investigations against victims' wishes.
A panel of Utah lawmakers said Monday they were tabling the idea with Republican sponsor Kim Coleman in another hearing during the busy final days of the legislative session.
Coleman has pointed to Utah cases where women reported assaults only to find university officials already knew about multiple allegations against the perpetrator and didn't stop them. She insists that should never happen.
Advocates, though, said even the possibility that college officials could give sexual assault allegations to police without victims' permission could keep them from reporting the assaults at all, undermining work being done to nudge up an anemic reporting rate.
The bill also gives people who report sexual assaults broad amnesty from school honor codes.
(KUTV) — The Senate Judiciary Committee decided to table H.B. 254, a controversial bill about reporting sexual assault on college campuses.
BREAKING: Senate Judiciary Committee is out of time. They are tabling HB254, a controversial bill about reporting sexual assault on college campuses. @KUTV2News— Morgan Saxton (@KUTVMorgan) March 5, 2018
The bill advanced to the Utah House of Representatives in February 2018.
The bill was killed because the committee ran out of time to discuss the bill during their last meeting.
Any further discussion will have to be brought up after the bill is re-introduced during next year's legislative session.
2News will continue to update this story as new information becomes available.
By the time she graduates from Utah Valley University, it will be 10 years since Amanda Rawlings first enrolled. Give her a lot of points for tenacity.
“I had to take a couple years off here and there for my own mental health,” she said. That’s pretty understandable when you realize she was a victim of sexual assault when she was in high school.
“Being a survivor of that has completely changed my life,” she said. It didn’t happen immediately. “I refer to that year of my life as ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’,” she said. After high school, she attended the College of Eastern Utah where she struggled, then transferred to UVU in 2010.
“Coming to UVU was a turn-around point,” she said.
She turned her life around emotionally, but brought a couple of things with her. One was her husband, Tyrell, who she met at CEU and later married. The other was a love for emergency services.
“There was a first aid course in my high school,” she said. “I absolutely loved it. I was a drama kid in high school, into gory makeup they used for mock disasters. I loved being on both sides.”
She not only applied the makeup to simulate injuries, but she also worked to simulate treatment for those injuries as well.
She credits Tyrell with bringing her out of her other life. When things got hard one time, they sat down together and found a therapist who connected her with nonprofit organizations. Seeking help is the advice she would offer to anyone who is struggling.
“Reach out, even though that can be the hardest step,” she said. “It could be any trauma-informed provider, like a rape crisis center such as Women and Children in Crisis or UCASA, the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“It is a daily reaching out that you have to do. I feel that is why I have succeeded. I have that support system. It makes things easier because now I have that network. It is the hardest thing I have ever done but it is worth it.”
Getting the help she needed allowed her to get back in school and pursue her goals.
“I love it,” she said about her education. “Emergency services is a passion of mine. All of my professors are actual emergency services specialists. They have worked in the field. They have so much experience and so many cool stories. I absolutely love it.”
Rawlings hopes to go into emergency medical services administration, which she defined as coordination of those services. She would like to work with a nonprofit.
“I want to do that because they have made such a huge impact on my life,” she said. “I want to be a part of that for somebody else. I want to actually be working for a nonprofit, not just volunteering.”
Part of her current volunteer experience is working with the rape crisis team for the Center for Women and Children in Crisis.
“Our team is on call to respond in the case of sexual assault,” she said. “We have a team including forensic nurses and victim advocates. I have been involved with them almost a year.”
She has had an internship with the Utah Pride Center, doing emergency protocols for the group’s festival.
“It is like merging my two passions together,” she said. “I absolutely love it.”
She has worked with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, in particular with its LGBTQ Council, to help ensure that the programs are inclusive. Another program she has assisted is the Encircle House, which helps provide resources for LGBT youth and families.
In addition to those pursuits, she works part time as a dispatcher for UVU Campus Police and full time for Northeastern Services, which provides group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities.
It’s not surprising that school has taken a bit more than the traditional four-year plan.
“I have been in and out of school, sometimes full time and sometimes part time,” she said. “It has kind of depended on where I was.”
She didn’t even know that the Women’s Success Center existed until about a year and a half ago, but now she has received a scholarship from the center. She said she was grateful for it and wouldn’t have been able to take her last two semesters without that financial aid.
Although her scholastic journey has been a long one, she is happy she has stayed with it, and even hopes to get a master’s degree in public administration in the future.
Women like Rawlings are encouraged to take advantage of the Women’s Success Center. The center offers women the support and resources they need to complete their degree and gain the confidence, opportunity and knowledge that come with a diploma. UVU is dedicated to providing higher education opportunities to all who seek them, especially to women. Those who wish information may visit uvu.edu/wsc.v
You cannot do this to sexual assault survivors.
You cannot take away the one shred of control they still possess. You cannot co-opt their decisions.
You cannot pass House Bill 254.
Sponsored by Rep. Kim Coleman, a West Jordan Republican, HB 254 allows Utah colleges and universities to report allegations of sexual violence to police — even if it’s against the victim’s wishes.
Title IX already allows schools some discretion in reporting crimes without the consent of the victim. Coleman’s bill expands that authority, essentially arguing that the safety of a college campus matters more than the trauma of an individual.
Why? Because it rips control of decision-making from the victim — a person who’s just endured a violent attack — and gives it to an institution.
Rape is about control. It’s about power. And now Coleman wants to tell sexual assault victims on Utah college campuses they don’t even have the power to decide if they’ll talk to police.
Many victims already hesitate to report sexual violence because they’re afraid schools cannot guarantee confidentiality. Pass HB 254 and you’ll ensure even fewer assault victims come forward; you won’t improve campus safety, you’ll damage it because crimes will go unreported.
And, at the same time, you’ll inflict unimaginable suffering on victims.
“This bill threatens the crucial relationship between survivors and victim advocates by taking the decision to move forward away from survivors,” Bitton said in a news release announcing UCASA’s opposition to HB 254. “In the #MeToo moment, it is unconscionable to be subverting the wishes of survivors.”
Everyone agrees we should protect Utah college students from sexual assault, but traumatizing victims isn’t an effective or compassionate approach.
We need to listen to the experts. And the experts say HB 254 is a bad idea.
SALT LAKE CITY – There’s a new mobile app available for survivors of sexual assault who are trying to heal.
The Utah Coalition against sexual assault launched the “You Are a Survivor” mobile app. It’s the first of its kind in Utah.
“We want them to control this process. We want them to have resources at their fingertips, and determine if they want to move forward,” said Turner Bitton, UCASA, executive director.
By accessing the app, survivors can learn how to file a report, understand trauma, legal options, and victim’s rights.
“Trauma impacts us all very differently and very similarly,” said Bitton.
The app is also a resource for families and loved ones of survivors.
“Research suggests upwards of 90 percent of survivors go to a secondary survivor or a friend or family member before they ever go to an informal support based on how that response happens,” said Bitton.
Rep. Angela Romero (D-SLC) hopes the app will help victims speak out and become survivors. Romero works closely with peer health educators on the Planned Parenthood Association Utah’s Teen Council.
“It's never the survivor's fault,” said Sofia Garza, Peer Health Educators Planned Parenthood Assoc. Utah's Teen Council.
For those who are afraid to talk to adults, the app can put them more at ease.
“With this new app, we can start to understand where people are coming from more and start creating change,” said Thalia Barnett, Peer Health Educators Planned Parenthood Assoc. Utah’s Teen Council.
“Teens are very comfortable with their phones. Having something where they know where to go, who to talk to, they know what can be done is really helpful,” said Garza.
The You Are Survivor app is free. It’s available on the Apple Store, and Google Play Store.
To download the app, click here.
(KUTV) -- The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault announced Friday the launch of a new mobile application called "You Are A Survivor."
Support is offered through the new app to sexual assault survivors and their families with information, resources, and links to service providers.
It is available free of charge on the Apple Store and Google Play Store.
“Today marks the beginning of a new era in our efforts to serve sexual assault survivors across the state," stated Turner C. Bitton, Coalition executive director, in a press release. "This mobile application is the culmination of decades of innovation aimed at reducing the isolation that many survivors feel after an assault.”
The release outlined the app features which include:
• Resources for Survivors: reporting options, understanding trauma, legal options, and the rights of victims.
• Resources for Friends and Family: understanding what is happening, supporting your loved one, reporting options, and responding to child sexual abuse.
Subsequent updates and versions of the You Are A Survivor mobile application are planned, the release said.
Users may download the app at UCASA.org/app.
Mobile Application For Sexual Assault Survivors Launches
Salt Lake City, Utah, February 16, 2018– Today the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault announced the launch of a new mobile application called You Are A Survivor. The new mobile application is designed to support sexual assault survivors and their families. After several months of testing and development, this all-mobile experience puts important resources and support in the hands of sexual assault survivors and their families. It is available free of charge on the Apple Store and Google Play Store.
The You Are A Survivor mobile application includes a variety of information, resources, and links to service providers.
“Today marks the beginning of a new era in our efforts to serve sexual assault survivors across the state. This mobile application is the culmination of decades of innovation aimed at reducing the isolation that many survivors feel after an assault.” -Turner C. Bitton, Executive Director
The You Are A Survivor mobile application features:
- Resources for Survivors: reporting options, understanding trauma, legal options, and the rights of victims.
- Resources for Friends and Family: understanding what is happening, supporting your loved one, reporting options, and responding to child sexual abuse.
Subsequent updates and versions of the You Are A Survivor mobile application are planned. Additional resources and information are added regularly. Users can download the app at UCASA.org/app.
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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Turner Bitton at (801) 746-0404 Ext. 1 or email at [email protected]