By Miranda Collette
SALT LAKE CITY – A bill which would promote teaching how to prevent sexual abuse to elementary school students unanimously passed the House of Representatives after victims of sexual abuse, including BYU alumnae Elizabeth Smart, showed support for the measure.
However before the bill’s passage, there was debate focusing on whether parents should be given the right to opt their children in, or if parents would be required to instead opt their children out of the program.
Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, proposed the amendment that would allow parents to opt in, or to choose whether or not their child would participate in sexual abuse programs.
Christensen said he wholeheartedly supported the bill and the attention it is giving to the issue of sexual abuse, but that he was concerned over the balance between the instruction given to the child by the teacher, and the importance of the parent-child relationship in dealing with sensitive subjects like abuse.
The bill sponsor, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, opposed the amendment, ad did Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City.
“Approximately three-fourths [of] reported, child sexual abuse is committed by family members … if we make this amendment we are asking members of the majority group [of abusers] to give permission to children to learn how to protect themselves.” Seelig said. “This just doesn’t make sense, at all. I speak strongly against the amendment.”
The bill, which is not mandatory for schools to implement, would let individual schools decide whether or not they want the program.
Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted at 14 years old, is a former sex-abuse victim. She was found nine months after her abduction and now speaks about her story, and about abuse prevention for children.
Smart attended the floor debate and said she supports the bill and it’s efforts to provide more opportunities for discussion between children and teachers in schools about sexual abuse.
Another former sexual abuse victim, Deondra Brown, came to the House meeting and spoke in support of the bill. Her father, received a 10-year sentence behind bars for abusing Brown and her sisters.
“I was very concerned about the opt in process because I could guarantee you that my parents would not have opted in.” Brown said.
The amendment to allow parents to opt in failed and the bill was successfully passed unamended.
“[Education about abuse] helps to give them the options or choices to say … I’m going scream, I’m going kick or I am just going to kick this person where it really counts.” Smart said. “It gives [children] that choice and that power to make a plan for themselves, so when faced in those situations they have something to fall back on.”