SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would promote teaching how to prevent sexual abuse to elementary school students unanimously passed the House of Representatives, unamended, after victims of sexual abuse, including BYU alumna 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 into a sexual abuse education program 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 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, as 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 would let individual schools decide whether or not they want the program, as it does not create a mandatory 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 its 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 to scream, I’m going to 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.”