Don't allow Utah colleges to co-opt the decisions of sexual violence victims

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.

Experts say she’s wrong. Turner C. Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, calls HB 254 “a dangerous backslide in our efforts to support sexual assault survivors.”

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.

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