Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014

Elizabeth Smart backs bill on child sexual abuse prevention training in schools

By Madeleine Brown, Deseret News

Published: Wed, Feb. 19 7:04 p.m. MST

 Elizabeth Smart speaks during a meeting concerning HB286 regarding child sexual abuse prevention training at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014.

Elizabeth Smart speaks during a meeting concerning HB286 regarding child sexual abuse prevention training at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014.

(Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Silence filled the House committee room Wednesday morning when the woman beginning to testify was asked to state her full name: "Elizabeth Smart."

"As a kid, I was told a lot of things," Smart said. "I was told, 'Don’t cross the street without looking both ways.' I was told, 'If you ever catch on fire, stop, drop and roll.' … But I was never told what I should do if I was faced with abduction or abuse."

Smart and her father, Ed, attended the House Health and Human Services Committee meeting to lend support to a bill that calls for elementary schools to provide training on child sexual abuse prevention.

After hearing compelling testimony from the Smarts and others, the committee passed HB286 on to the full House with a unanimous vote. The bill, as amended, would make the training optional for schools.

"I think it’s a starting point. It allows local schools to decide whether they want to provide the curriculum. And parents, if they don’t feel comfortable with it, can opt out," said Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, the bill's sponsor.

Diane Robertson, a North Salt Lake mother of nine who is expecting another child, told state lawmakers she has hesitations about the bill but is glad to see it no longer mandated the training programs. When asked if she would opt out of a program for her children, Robertson said it would depend on the child.

Romero said schools in Utah, Tooele and Grand counties have already implemented such programs. She said schools wanting to participate could look to those districts for a model, especially to ensure children don't come away thinking every adult is a predator.

"I have learned that over 80 percent of children who are given choices, who are given options about fighting back, about saying no, about realizing when that line has been crossed, they’re able to get away," Elizabeth Smart said.

Testimony centered on the idea that parents are responsible for teaching their children about sexual abuse prevention, but they aren't always equipped to do so.

HB286 would provide training for teachers as well as parents to learn how to talk about it with children.

"I feel, as many parents out there, I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to teach my children," Ed Smart said. "And parents are certainly an integral part of this very important issue, but I think that to have a life-skills program where it's taught in the school system, nothing could be more important."

He said the bill matches his mantra of "be prepared, not scared" and would help children identify behaviors that could be potentially harmful.

Both Ed and Elizabeth Smart talked about the importance of being proactive and having prevention education.

"We do need to talk about it, and school is a great place to start. It's a great starting point to open the door to having that conversation at home," Elizabeth Smart said.

She said prevention education would help children know what to do and feel like they have options if they're ever in a "terrible situation."

"We’re always talking about 'stranger danger,' but we’re not talking about the people around us," Romero said. "And 94 percent of the kids that are sexually abused in Utah are sexually abused by somebody they know. And out of proven cases, 72 percent of those perpetrators are the parent."

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: Madeleine6

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1. birder
Salt Lake City, UT,
Feb. 19, 2014

I am way uncomfortable with putting this topic into a classroom setting. It is yet another example of schools having to try and pick up the pieces for what is not going on in homes. They want us to do suicide prevention, gun safety, bully prevention, sex ed, and now sex abuse prevention. What happened to" 'readin, 'riting, and 'rithmetic?" Oh, I forgot for a moment. The State Legislature and State School Board are in charge.

2. CP
Tooele, UT,
Feb. 19, 2014

To many children turn up missing and get hurt. I think it's a good thing to have in schools so these children will know what to do. We as parents do our best to teach everything we can to our children but sometimes we need help too. I wish there was something like this taught in school when my kids were younger.

3. no fit in SG
St.George, Utah,
Feb. 19, 2014

There are ultra conservative lobbying groups who have the legislators ears here in Utah.
It does not matter to these people if this instruction will help children.
The subject includes the word sex, which is a word these lobbyists and legislators refuse to connect with.

4. FatherOfFour
WEST VALLEY CITY, UT,
Feb. 20, 2014

What "no fit in SG" said. That. Exactly.

5. JMT
Springville, UT,
Feb. 20, 2014

I wish that the Dnews would allow for us to post links that are thoughtful and constructive to the discussion. Alas, they do not.

If they did I would post links to two scholarly studies. The first is observational with statistically significant data from Texas. It shows that when Planned Parenthood left a cluster of counties that teenage pregnancy and STDs dropped significantly.

Second, a very recent study on bullying that demonstrates, again with hard data, that where anti-bullying programs are implemented bullying actually increases!

In both cases, hard data demonstrates that these well intended programs actually backfire. Turns out teaching kids how 'not to do something' becomes some sort of de facto, this is how you do it.

How do these studies impact this issue? I can only guess though the trend would be that, while very well intended, if this measure becomes law we should expect painful 'blow-back' to borrow a military term.

I strongly suggest this bill be defeated or moved to next legislative session so the issue can be studied much more thoroughly. The data of similar activities is very compelling and informative.