Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Turner Bitton talks about local programs to help those who are facing sexual violence. He also speaks about UCASA's program 'Start by Believing' that teaches the community how to recognize and help a victim.
For more information about UCASA, visit ucasa.org. For immediate support, you can always reach The Utah's 24-hour Sexual Violence Crisis Line at (888) 421-1100.
The words #MeToo flooded Turner Bitton’s feed as he scrolled through social media. He estimated roughly two-thirds of women and a fair number of men he knew used the viral hashtag meant to identify sexual assault victims.
As executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, or UCASA, Bitton is no stranger to the fact that sexual abuse plagues American society, but even he was surprised at the number of people who spoke out using the hashtag.
“One of the things that this campaign in particular has done is really shown the scope of the issue. … it gives people an idea of how big the scope of the problem is,” Bitton said.
Origins of #MeToo
The hashtag originated almost 10 years ago by sexual assault advocate Tarana Burke, but has gained recent traction in a tweet written by singer and actress Alyssa Milano. She asked followers to reply to her tweet with “me too” if they’ve ever experienced sexual violence.
Actress Alyssa Milano asked women to use #MeToo to share stories of sexual abuse on Twitter. The hashtag #MeToo has since gone viral.
“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” she wrote.
Her tweet was in response to the highly publicized sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, and was meant to show the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the US.
The tweet now has more than 68,000 replies and more than 25,000 retweets since it was posted on Oct. 15. Consequently, the phrase “me too” is now a viral hashtag across social media, and thousands are sharing their own stories of sexual harassment and assault online.
But will speaking out lead to real change? And is it helpful or harmful for victims to be so open about their past, especially on a platform as volatile as social media?
The Utah Department of Health reports one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence during their lives.
BYU hosted a forum discussion titled, “Smart Talks: I’ve Never Told Anyone…” to end the BYU Women’s Services and Resources’ weeklong event, Voices of Courage, on Oct. 20.
Elizabeth Smart was one of the four panelists featured at the event and commended victims for speaking out about sexual abuse.
“I feel so strongly about tonight’s event because we’re here talking about big, dark, scary issues, issues that people don’t want to talk about. It’s even harder to talk about, and even harder to admit that something’s happened to you, but being here tonight … can change that,” Smart said.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Joy O’Banion is the director of strategy at Orem’s Family Support and Treatment Center. She said speaking out with the #MeToo hashtag can potentially be both helpful and harmful to a victim, depending on their emotional strength.
“I think because we have traditionally kept those things secret, people who are sharing (#MeToo) feel a sense of community, and it kind of removes some of the stigma that goes along with sexual assault and sexual abuse,” O’Banion said. “(But) any time you’re posting something on social media that puts you in a vulnerable position.”
Rachelle Hardman, the prevention coordinator at the treatment center, said the #MeToo campaign is powerful because victims don’t necessarily have to disclose the details of their story, and can be empowered just by saying, “#MeToo.”
“Obviously, this ‘me too’ hits a lot of really broad spectrums. We’re looking at sexual harassment in the workplace, we’re looking at child abuse, we’re looking at rape, we’re looking at dating violence. It can definitely cross all kinds of things,” Hardman said.
Elizabeth Harbison studied at UVU and is currently a stay-at-home mom in Texas who decided to use #MeToo on social media. She said deciding to use the hashtag “wasn’t too hard” because all she had to do was “put a hashtag to raise awareness and that’s all.”
Daniella Murri-Villar Wilson went to UVU and The Aveda Institute. She said she didn’t want to speak out initially, but said she felt spiritually prompted to do so after remembering so many personal experiences of sexual abuse against her and other women in her life.
“Once I started writing it was almost therapeutic to tell my truths. I wasn’t even very specific but it was nice to know that I could be honest,” Wilson said.
Getting real help
O’Banion said statistics indicate one in three females and one in five to one in seven males will experience some kind of sexual assault by the age of 18; and campaigns like #MeToo should be a catalyst for survivors to seek help and/or report their abuse.
“Social media is a great venue for all kinds of things, but you’re not going to get the help you need on social media. If you haven’t sought help, if you haven’t talked about this with professionals, then you probably want to do that (because) this could open up a lot of emotional wounds for people if they haven’t dealt with whatever it is that they are ‘hashtag me too-ing,’” Hardman said.
Certified EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapist Tami Luke Thayne said while it depends on the extent of the abuse, it’s been her experience that just talking about sexual assault “is not very helpful” for actual victims of sexual trauma.
“To say ‘me too’ and acknowledge it … should be a start of something more. It’s not enough,” Thayne said. “I think it needs to be followed up with, ‘get help.’ Do something with that acknowledgment.”
Bitton said UCASA has a list of Utah resources available for sexual abuse victims on its website, including a 24-hour hotline. Other on-campus resources are available to BYU students through BYU’s Women’s Services and Resources. The Utah Department of Health also has a list of resources available.
Is change possible?
Valerie Hudson is the director for Texas A&M’s program on women, peace and security, a former BYU professor, and an author who studies violence against women. She said the #MeToo campaign is “very needed” and can lead to change.
“When women (and men) break down the walls of silence, perpetrators recalculate the likelihood of harm to their interests. Sexual abuse has been a ‘cheap’ crime because women don’t speak and police/prosecutors don’t take action. But when many, many women come forward with the same stories about the same men, even our inadequate legal system takes notice,” Hudson said in an email.
Elizabeth Smart said campaigns like #MeToo are important opportunities to educate and inspire change in the legal system.
“(With) what’s going on in the media with Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo campaign, this is the time where it is making more noise,” Smart said. “We’re going to continue to expand this campaign, to expand these events where we talk about these issues because the more people … we educate, the more noise we can make, which will eventually change the system.”
Bitton said he hopes the #MeToo campaign will inspire Utahns to be more politically involved with promoting resources and awareness about sexual assault.
“What I hope is that as we go into the next legislative session, that there’s increased interest in sexual violence and harassment prevention,” Bitton said. “I hope that everyone who’s participated in the me too campaign gets involved.”
UCASA will be hosting their annual ‘Day on the Hill” event on Feb. 13, and invite anyone interested to seek more information on its website.
Hudson said new conversations between women and between men and women like the #MeToo campaign give her hope for the future.
“Things can change, and these women can find comfort that their truth-telling was the reason for that change,” Hudson said.
For immediate release
Film screening to explore the experiences of male survivors of sexual violence
Orem, UT, October 24, 2017– Today the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA) announced that they, along with a consortium of partners and agencies, will host a screening of the internationally recognized film The Voiceless. This powerful straight to camera film features the stories of five male survivors of sexual violence discusses culture, masculinity, and other important concepts. The film was produced by Vanessa McNeal and PLVTO Pros of Des Moines.
“Every victim deserves justice and we cannot forget that men also experience sexual violence. Male survivors of sexual violence often face unique barriers due to a variety of factors. Our goal with this screening is to shine a light on these factors and to create a dialogue about the needs of male survivors in general.”
– Turner C. Bitton, Executive Director
The event will be hosted by a group of partner agencies including the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Men’s Anti-violence Network of Utah, Center for Women and Children in Crisis, and many student groups from UVU. UCASA released these additional details regarding the event:
WHAT: The Voiceless Screening
WHEN: October 24, 2017 – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Utah Valley University, Sorenson Student Center, Centre Stage 800 W University Pkwy Orem, UT 84058
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Turner Bitton at (801) 746-0404 Ext. 1 or email at [email protected]
Title IX has been pushed to the forefront in light of new guidance from the Department of Education, as well as the viral social media movement #MeToo. BYU’s Title IX Office is no stranger to media attention after a year and a half of close scrutiny regarding the way sexual misconduct is investigated on campus.
Department of Education reforms
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ address on Sept. 7 centered on the Department of Education’s commitment to protecting students from discrimination. Following her remarks, DeVos released an interim Q&A for schools on how to investigate campus sexual assault.
“This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly,” DeVos said. “Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos introduces an interim Q&A for schools on how to investigate campus sexual assault. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
The interim Q&A indicates that when a school knows about an incident of sexual misconduct, the school must take measures to understand what happened and respond — whether or not a student files a complaint of sexual misconduct.
Guidance released under the Obama administration in 2011 and updated in 2014 instructed universities to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard when assessing and investigating claims of sexual assault.
DeVos’s new guidelines allow colleges to choose between that standard and a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is harder to meet. There has been no announcement on how long these interim rules will be in effect, but meanwhile the Department of Education will gather comments from the public in order to write new guidance.
Marcus Williams, BYU’s deputy Title IX coordinator for students, said these reforms didn’t change the way Title IX issues are handled at BYU.
“Because of the changes we made in the past year, we’re already kind of leading the way; we’re already ahead of the game,” Williams said. “We make a very concerted effort to make sure all of our investigations are fair and equitable, and that everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard.”
BYU currently follows the preponderance of evidence standard in Title IX investigations. Williams said they don’t know what the final outcome is going to be and how it might affect BYU’s policy, but as of now there have been no changes implemented based on DeVos’ remarks.
BYU Title IX reforms
The past year and a half has been marked by ongoing changes and rebuilding of BYU’s Title IX Office, including the appointment of Tiffany Turley as the new Title IX coordinator. In addition, BYU adopted an amnesty clause, including leniency for other Honor Code violations not directly related to sexual violence.
Williams said the amnesty clause has been working well and Turley has seen an increase in the number of reports.
“We’ve had more reports this semester in six weeks than in all of winter semester,” Turley said.
The addition of the amnesty clause, as well as confidentiality and leniency, was put into practice as soon as President Kevin J Worthen said that was the direction BYU was going to take. It was officially codified into the policy in Spring 2017.
Over the summer, the Title IX office focused on revising its written communication to simplify information for everyone involved. Williams said the office has prepared information for all parties involved in Title IX issues, has updated the website design and is currently working on an updated FAQ section.
“Over the past year we’ve really locked up this investigation piece and it’s set,” Turley said. “We’re completely overhauling the sexual misconduct policy that the university has — we’re changing quite a bit, actually, so some big changes are coming as far as how discipline looks.”
The Title IX office has been working on these changes for the past six or seven months and is now starting the approval process through the university.
Title IX outreach and awareness
Turley said the office’s next big step is training and education about Title IX issues.
“My big theme this year is ‘doing more than ever before,'” Turley said. “That’s what I feel like we’re doing, and our office is just growing, and that’s where we feel we can make the biggest impact now, is with training and awareness.”
Students and members of the community attend BYU Title IX ‘s Voices of Courage art exhibit on Oct. 21. (Tiffany Turley)
Turley said the office wants to focus on training and helping people realize how they can make a difference.
“We want to not just talk about the warning signs of domestic violence, but what a healthy relationship looks like — we want to focus on the good, as well,” Turley said. “There is a lot of good education and awareness that we can provide in a very positive way to help people understand these issues, as well.”
BYU’s Title IX Office hosted the Voices of Courage campaign Oct. 16-20, including a number of workshops, events and speakers. The weeklong campaign ended with a keynote address from Elizabeth Smart on issues surrounding sexual assault and speaking out.
Turley said the vision of the campaign was engaging men and woman as allies.
The Title IX office has already held over 60 separate training sessions this semester. The office has trained incoming freshman, deans, department chairs, athletic teams, academic departments and more.
“We’ve had a lot of students that want to be involved and volunteer,” Williams said. “We’re trying to make a student engagement volunteer group through Title IX and we hope to see that within this school year.”
Williams also said the office has focused on forging stronger community partners and relationships.
“I think with everything that’s gone on, either people didn’t know or had kind of formed opinions about Title IX at BYU and what that looked like,” Turley said. “So we’ve tried to help them really understand all the great changes we’ve made, what we’re doing now and the direction we’re going, and everyone has been so incredibly responsive.”
Turley has been invited to present for different groups, including the National Sexual Violence Resource Center Board of Directors. The Utah County Commissioners invited Turley to a town hall meeting, and she has partnered with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault on many issues.
“There are a lot of opportunities in the community to get the word out about BYU and what resources are here because these issues are wide-ranging,” Turley said.
Turley said working at the Title IX office has been rewarding, eye-opening, humbling and empowering.
“One thing I’ve noticed for sure is we have good students here, and if there is anything we can do to help them, that’s what we want to do,” Turley said. “Unfortunately some of our students are facing these really hard issues … but through the changes the university has made we can offer them more help. Title IX has always been here — there’s always been help, but we’re doing it in a different way now.
Request for Proposals
For Bookkeeping Services
For the period: November 2017 - Ongoing
Inquiries and proposals should be directed to:
Name: Turner C. Bitton
Title: Executive Director
Entity: Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Address: 284 West 400 North Suite Salt Lake City, Utah 84103
Phone: 801-746-0404 Ext. 1
Email: [email protected]
Brigham Young University students say sexual assault policy changes have eased ‘culture of fear,’ but there’s more work to be done
A year after Brigham Young University began offering amnesty from Honor Code investigations to students who report sexual assaults, the “huge culture of fear” has eased, senior Tinesha Zandamela believes
But changing the climate on campus — including seeing a widespread understanding of consent — will take more time and more conversations, said Zandamela, a member of the Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).
“We have hundreds and hundreds of students, maybe thousands, who don’t believe that sexual assault actually even happens on this campus or that it’s just this rarity and we don’t need to talk about it,” she said.
“So until we do talk about it more and be a little bit more loud and constant with our message and with more education,” she said, “I don’t think that too much is going to change.”
Tiffany Turley, the school’s new full-time Title IX coordinator, said the university has received more sexual assault reports in the first few weeks of classes than it saw in fall semester last year.
Her office, charged with swiftly responding to and resolving complaints of sexual violence, has provided 60 training sessions to students and faculty already this semester, Turley said.
“I think people just might not have known what Title IX was before, so with all the trainings that we’re doing, the awareness campaigns … people know there is a place on campus where they can go and get help,” she said.
She said the reports are “significant” but declined to provide a specific figure.
“The number of reports is really what kind of helps us sleep at night,” she said, “and know that while every day we go home and wonder, ‘What more could we do?’ we know that what we’re doing now is heading in the right direction and it’s making a difference to our students.”
‘It’s getting better’Read more
Tyler Clancy was tapped to the 12-member panel and says he wants to combat a persistent problem that has affected his family and friends.
"Their, I guess, journey has inspired me to take up the mantle and get more men involved into this fight," says Clancy.
"… to educate young men about what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable," Clancy says, "and it also has ways to break out of cycles of violence in the home."
Clancy and other council members plan to learn the curriculum to share at detention centers and after-school programs around Utah.
(KUTV) Social media continues to blow up with the “Me Too” campaign, spreading awareness about sexual harassment and assault.
All of this movement on social media is now having an effect here in Utah. More people are talking about their experiences with sexual violence, and they're reaching out to places that can help.
Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said his organization has seen a spike in people asking for help and seeking resources.
“This morning I had 11 emails,” said Bitton. “Folks are reaching out not just about sexual violence but also about sexual harassment.”
It's the outgrowth of the explosive story involving Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. As his accusers have come forward, so have people across the world to share their own stories.
The coalition is now helping those sexual assault survivors find services and helping others prevent violence in the first place.
“One of the emails that was in my inbox this morning was, I want to do a training on sexual harassment, I want to do a training about professionalism in the workplace,” said Bitton.
All this is helping bring some positivity out of the pain of this difficult issue.
“We’ve really seen not only businesses but survivors, folks from around the state reaching out, wanting to engage in this issue,” Bitton said. “It’s very, very gratifying.”
To find resources for sexual assault survivors and for more information, visit UCASA.org/resources.
Sexual assault victims can also call the 24/7 Sexual Violence Crisis Line at 1-888-421-1100.
Amanda Rock took to Twitter late Monday morning and typed the same two words that many women and men across the country posted online as they shared their stories of sexual harassment or assault: “Me too.”
The Salt Lake City woman added: “I’m still so mad at myself for not saying anything.”
There was some hesitation, she said, in adding her voice to the impromptu social media movement that was sparked Sunday by actress Alyssa Milano, who posted on Twitter with an idea that if all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a social media status, it would give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
But Rock said Monday that she wanted to share her own story to support other women who have posted.
After posting #metoo on Twitter, Rock told The Tribune that she was sexually harassed by a man on a TRAX train who rubbed himself against her while making small talk. Shocked, she didn’t know what to do — she never asked him to stop, she never called the cops.
“I just let him,” she said. “ … It’s only recently that it occurred to me that it’s him, not me, that should have acted differently. There’s no way that I’m going to be mad at myself anymore. Hearing and reading other women’s stories, I realized that I would never think that they didn’t react properly, so I shouldn’t be mad at myself anymore.”
Rock was one of thousands who posted their #metoo experience in response to Milano’s call to action. Within hours of the actress’s Sunday tweet, “Me too” began appearing in droves, and quickly started trending on Twitter and Facebook. By Monday morning, the hashtag #metoo was the top trending phrase on Twitter in Salt Lake City.
On social media, some Utahns wrote simply, “Me too.” Others wrote #metoo, but added: “I don’t ever want to talk about it.”
Still others shared their specific stories of sexual harassment or assault. One woman was 18. Another was assaulted as a child. Another woman recounted how just two days ago, two men pulled up next to her car in downtown Salt Lake City and yelled vulgarities at her.
There was that time in junior high. High school. At her job. In a basement. On the street.
And the response from many? You are not alone. It happened to me, too.
The actress’s tweet-turned-social-media-movement has done what it intended: it showed how commonplace sexual assault and harassment are.
One Utah woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Tribune on Monday that she was groped under her shirt by a high-power board member years ago. She shared her #metoo story to show the public how prevalent sexual assault and harassment is.
“Those who perpetrate sexual assault are our friends, our neighbors, our family members,” she said. “There is a harasser or assaulter behind every #metoo you read.”
The reason she posted her own story?
“This is me too,” she said. “This is not just some random person you’ve never heard of. It becomes very personal, and when things become personal, people care about them.”
Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA), said Monday that the movement has been empowering to survivors of sexual abuse.
“A lot of times,” Bitton said, “just disclosing that you have experienced violence, that can be a healing moment in and of itself.”
UCASA has heard from service providers across the state who have said they’ve seen an increase in a request for services Monday — likely because of the massive social media campaign.
There’s been an increase in need at the Center for Women and Children in Crisis as well, according to Christine Cagano, who is the sexual assault services coordinator. That increase began about a week ago, she said, as news of decades of sexual abuse allegations emerged against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
“It’s a trigger for everyone,” she said. “Even if you confronted it years ago, just the story in and of itself, just rape and sexual assault in itself, is a trigger. No matter how well you’re doing.”
Cagano said that while the social media movement is powerful, people should still be sensitive to those who don’t want to share their experiences publicly.
“Kudos to those who do, and kudos to those who don’t,” she said. “We don’t want to shame the survivors who don’t want to talk about it publicly.”
Bitton said people often think of sexual assault survivors as broken, sad or hurt. But in working with those survivors, he’s found they are strong and resilient.
“To see them leading the charge out there with this campaign, empowering survivors, and saying this happened to me too — it’s very inspirational,” he said.
Anyone in need of resources can call Utah’s 24-hour Sexual Violence Crisis Line at 1-888-421-1100 or visit UCASA’s website for more information about services in your area.
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) - A former football standout accused of rape and forcible sodomy pleaded guilty to reduced charges Thursday.
Osa Masina was scheduled to go on trial next week, but instead he pleaded guilty to three counts of Class A misdemeanors of sexual battery.
This case is once again bringing the topic of consent to the forefront of the conversation about sexual assault and rape. Advocates say many are still confused on exactly what it means. They say it is a constant conversation.
"As a society we should change our viewpoint to no means no to yes means yes,” said Turner Bitton, Executive Director of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Turner Bitton says it's been hard getting over the biases when it comes to consent. As Executive Director of UCASA, he's says there have been issues getting people to understand what consent is, and realizing people can change their mind at any time.
"As a society we have to change the way we look at consent. Consent is a process it's not a one off,” said Bitton.
In the recent Osa Masina case the attorney representing the family argued the victim sent text messages to another friend saying she wanted to be intimate with Masina.
While technology and social media is leaving a record of people's intent, advocates say that is in no way shape or form consent.
"That's not consent because A it didn't happen in the moment. There are a number of factors that going into someone being able to give consent. The first and foremost is that they be sober and aware of their ability to give consent."
Sexual assault survivors like Lorcan Murphy have been trying to spread the word on consent by telling their stories. One of his biggest messages is that people have to talk and know for sure it's something that's wanted.
"I think that it's important for people to kind of be aware that sometimes people are going to say no and sometimes no isn't always going to be explicitly spelled out,” said Lorcan Murphy, sexual assault survivor.
Advocates say consent is not just a conversation for college students, but is something that should be discussed at all ages and is even for those who are already in a relationship.