February 09, 2015
  • Opinion

Breaking the Silence of Sexual Abuse

Despite opposition by the Utah Eagle Forum, Utah State Representive Angela Romero was successful in her efforts to get a sex abuse prevention bill passed during her first term in office in 2014. Governor Gary Herbert officially signed HB 286 into law on April 1, 2014. Present at the signing were (from left to right): Carrie Jensen, Kristin Parry, Rep. Jacob Anderegg, Preston Jensen, Rep. Craig Hall, Ciera Pekarcik (Miss Utah 2013), Senator Todd Wiler, Alana Kindness, Rep. Angela Romero, Deondra Brown Nielsen, Alexis Santoyo, Pamela Atkinson, Trina Baker Taylor and Ed Smart. You can also see the back of Rep. Marie Poulson and Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig’s heads. Breaking the Silence of Sexual Abuse
Despite opposition by the Utah Eagle Forum, Utah State Representive Angela Romero was successful in her efforts to get a sex abuse prevention bill passed during her first term in office in 2014.|Governor Gary Herbert officially signed HB 286 into law on April 1, 2014. Present at the signing were (from left to right): Carrie Jensen, Kristin Parry, Rep. Jacob Anderegg, Preston Jensen, Rep. Craig Hall, Ciera Pekarcik (Miss Utah 2013), Senator Todd Wiler, Alana Kindness, Rep. Angela Romero, Deondra Brown Nielsen, Alexis Santoyo, Pamela Atkinson, Trina Baker Taylor and Ed Smart. You can also see the back of Rep. Marie Poulson and Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig’s heads.||| Despite opposition by the Utah Eagle Forum, Utah State Representive Angela Romero was successful in her efforts to get a sex abuse prevention bill passed during her first term in office in 2014.|Governor Gary Herbert officially signed HB 286 into law on April 1, 2014. Present at the signing were (from left to right): Carrie Jensen, Kristin Parry, Rep. Jacob Anderegg, Preston Jensen, Rep. Craig Hall, Ciera Pekarcik (Miss Utah 2013), Senator Todd Wiler, Alana Kindness, Rep. Angela Romero, Deondra Brown Nielsen, Alexis Santoyo, Pamela Atkinson, Trina Baker Taylor and Ed Smart. You can also see the back of Rep. Marie Poulson and Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig’s heads.||| ||||
By The West View

As parents, we repeat these words like mantras: “Stay on the sidewalk, look both ways before you cross, hold my hand in the street!” As a parent, my biggest fear was that my child could be hit by a car, so when I read the following fact in Everyday Feminism Magazine, it hit me hard: my children, and yours, are more likely to be sexually abused or assaulted than being hit by a car. What’s worse, the perpetrator will be someone the victim knows and trusts 90 percent of the time, according to the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.

I now realize that all my work to teach my children about stranger danger and helping them memorize their address and phone number isn’t enough. The approach to protect our children has to change. Last year, State Representative Angela Romero of District 26 began work on just that.

Representative Romero understands that the rates of abuse are high: one in four girls and one in six boys will be assaulted before they turn 18, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. In a class of 30 students, that means almost eight girls and five boys will suffer the agony of abuse, which experts say will have long-term painful and damaging effects on their lives. If it hasn’t happened to you, it likely has happened to someone you know and love. It may be a family member, friend, mentor, teacher, co-worker, or neighbor. We are all impacted by abuse.

Like many of you reading this, I am a survivor of sexual abuse and assault. My story starts before I can remember and lasted into my adult life. Multiple perpetrators preyed on me because I had been conditioned to keep silent. Romero knows that this is a common story and she was determined to break the silence.

At the beginning of 2013, Romero embarked on a yearlong effort to pass a bill that would require schools to provide training and education to elementary school faculty, staff, and parents. It would also allow for an age-appropriate education program to be presented to children in elementary school, teaching them how to keep themselves safe from sexual abuse.

Romero based her work on a law that had passed in Illinois called Erin’s Law. Erin Merrin had suffered years of abuse as a child and decided that she would do all she could to stop other children from suffering in silence as she had. In Illinois, they found that providing age-appropriate education helped to stop abuse that was happening and prevent future assaults.

Support for Utah’s law came from eloquent spokespeople such as Elizabeth Smart and her father Ed Smart, Deondra Brown (from the piano group the 5 Browns), Miss Utah Ciera Pekarcik, and many others who had suffered through sexual abuse and decided to reclaim their power by helping to pass this bill.

There was opposition, but Romero and her supporters fought hard. She said, “To see survivors take back their power by lobbying for this bill was priceless.” When it finally came to the floor, five members of the Legislature (female and male alike) shared their own stories of survival. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle embraced each other. Protecting our children is not a partisan issue.

House Bill 286, http://le.utah.gov/~2014/bills/static/hb0286.html, officially became a law on May 13, 2014, but work will continue to implement it. While there was no money allocated for the bill, organizations are already hard at work providing schools and other groups with age-appropriate education materials and will come together with supporters of the bill and the department of education to develop materials for schools to use. The law will be implemented during the 2016-2017 school year.

There are prevention resources already available to educators and parents. Prevent Child Abuse Utah has been educating Utah’s children, parents and community members for thirty years. In 2013 they provided services for 45,000 individuals. They will continue their work in collaboration with others by creating an approved curriculum to be used in accordance with the new law.

Executive director Trina Taylor says that it is critical to reach and train the “gate keepers,” those who are in positions to protect children, so that they will know how to protect our children. Prevent Child Abuse Utah uses a simple three point system to teach children how to protect themselves: 1. Trust your “uh-oh” feeling; 2. Say no; and 3. Go tell.

One Utah family is spreading the word through a book called “My Body’s Just For Me.” Authors Eva and Yoshi Shiraki worked with illustrator Yanilda Shiraki to create a book they hope will protect children through education.

Eva takes the responsibility of protecting her children seriously and always taught them about sexual abuse and how to protect themselves from a young age. Because of open and clear communication about body boundaries, her young daughter was able to tell her mother after the first and only incident of being touched inappropriately by a babysitter. The abuse was stopped and the healing was able to begin because her child was empowered to speak up.

The book highlights important discussion points that should be addressed with a child: your body has special parts that belong only to you; no one has the right to touch or look at those parts including friends, family, authority figures (such as church leaders or members, coaches, teachers, or other adults); perpetrators may try to threaten or coerce a child to keep the abuse secret; it is your right to say no and if something does happen, tell again and again until someone listens and the abuse stops.

I look back at my childhood and wish that I had access to the empowerment that this law can provide. In my case, when authorities tried to step in, those abusing me were a step ahead by threatening me with half-truths that I would be taken from my family and never see my siblings again if I spoke out. I felt powerless.

I was never taught that my body belonged to me or that -- no matter who the perpetrator was -- I had the right to say no and get help. No one ever said to tell, and keep telling, until someone listens and the abuse stops. I never knew that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know that no matter how long it had been happening, how humiliating the abuse was, what the perpetrator’s gender was, or how much I loved that person, I had the right to make it all stop. I didn’t know that my body was mine and that the shame I felt belonged to the perpetrators. That is what this new law provides. That is why it was worth fighting for. Representative Romero said, “All vulnerable communities need a voice.” This bill will give children the power to use their own voice.

Sexual abuse is an ugly black cloud that chokes, disables, and disempowers our community. We can close our eyes to it and pretend it is not there, letting our children fall into the darkness, or we can talk about it openly, expelling the guilt that always seems to plague its victims. When we name sexual abuse and assault as what it is and openly denounce it, the power of that cloud suddenly clears and victims can stand up empowered, shedding that heavy title for a new one: survivor.

For more information and prevention resources, visit the Prevent Child Abuse Utah website at www.preventchildabuseutah.org. The book “My Body’s Just For Me” is available for purchase at Kami Hair Salon on 4896 South Highland Drive, (801)278-4497. Open Mon. – Fri., 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

In the current 2015 Legislative session, Rep. Romero is continuing her work against sexual assault by sponsoring HB 174 which intends to clarify consent to sexual intercourse. This legislation clarifies that sex with an unconscious person or one incapacitated by drugs, medication, head injury or mental disability (i.e. someone who is not able to give consent) is rape.

Photos courtesy of the Governor's Office.


 

Amy headshotAmy Jordan is a devoted mother of four beautiful children who are 4th generation Glendale residents. She is active in her church as LDS Young Women’s President, organizes community and school gardens, and works as an American Sign Language Interpreter.