Domestic violence forum presses for criminal code changes

By Melissa Taylor
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY — Recently the Hinckley Institute of Politics sponsored a forum at the University of Utah to discuss policy and possible legislation regarding sexual and domestic violence.

Directed by Holly Mullen, interim director at the Rape Recover Center, the forum brought four panelists together to discuss questions regarding the politics of sexual and domestic violence in the state of Utah. The event panel included Sen.Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, Assistant Utah Attorney General and former Utah County prosecutor Donna Kelly, and ABC 4 Utah evening anchor Kim Fisher.

Romero is currently working on HB74. If passed, the bill would modify the definition of consent in the Criminal Code regarding sexual assault. The panel discussed the necessity of these modifications.

Currently, lack of consent is defined in subsection five of the Utah code as “a situation where the victim has not consented, is unconscious, or is unable to physically resist.”

“The law is a living breathing thing that needs to be updated,” Kelly said. “If the victim was unconscious, how can [the victim] prove there was not consent?”

Although the proposed amendments to the current Criminal Code are only a few lines, Weiler said it is a continuing problem as many perpetrators are released from charges by saying the victim “never said no.”

“it is more than time for the Utah legislature to acknowledge that,” Weiler said.

Romero discussed her public awareness campaign called “Start by Believing,” which will be implemented in 2016. The campaign encourages those who are confronted by victims of sexual abuse to help them get the resources they need.

“So many times we blame the victim and don’t give them the opportunity to heal,” Romero said. “If someone comes to you, get them the proper help.”

All of the forum panelists agreed that there seems to be a correlation between the lack of sex education and the rising number of sexual violence crimes in Utah.

In 2012 a bill was introduced in the state legislature that would have instituted a ban on teaching contraception in public schools and required abstinence as the standard of Utah’s sex education curriculum. Although the bill passed in the House and Senate, it was vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert.

Despite the veto, the current policy in Utah is still abstinence-based and emphasizes teaching “the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage as methods for preventing certain communicable diseases; and personal skills that encourage individual choice of abstinence and fidelity.”

Fisher expressed her concerns with the current Utah policy on sex education in public schools. “How do you know what consent is if it’s never been taught to you?” Fisher said. “We have to start with our children. We have to teach them what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.”

If you have ideas on how to improve current law, you can contact your district legislator through the Utah Legislature website: le.utah.gov. For more information on the Start By Believing campaign, visit startbybelieving.org

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