Utah legislative session focuses on victims of violence, harassment

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A common thread connecting multiple bills from the 2019 legislative session is a focus on victims of violence and sexual harassment or abuse.

HCR6

HCR6 would create a statewide day of awareness for violence against indigenous women, girls and members of the LGBT community.

According to Restoring Ancestral Winds representative Moroni Benally, Utah is ranked 8 of 29 surveyed states for rates of murdered and missing indigenous women, girls and the LGBT community.

Sponsored by Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, the resolution would make May 5 “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and LGBT+ Awareness Day.”

HCR6 received favorable responses from legislators and a draft of the enrolled bill has been prepared.

HB19

HB19 proposes new protections for victims of domestic abuse as they await trial.

If signed into law, judges will be allowed to grant pretrial protective orders to victims of sex and exploitation crimes. Orders would become extendable to the end of the pretrial process.

In addition, HB19 would cause domestic violence jail release protective orders to expire when cases are declined or if charges aren’t filed. HB19 would also clarify that courts can decide the parameters of allowable contact concerning minor children or property transfers.

Bill sponsor Romero said the goal of the bill is to protect the rights of both victims and perpetrators.

“Currently, many survivors are in danger from their aggressors and are intimidated or abused during pretrial from testifying and or pursuing litigation,” Romero said.

A previous bill dealing with similar issues failed during the 2018 legislative session, but HB19 has moved favorably throughout the 2019 session and awaits the Gov. Gary Herbert’s action.

HB20

HB20, another bill proposed by Romero, would protect vulnerable adults by increasing the penalty of human trafficking vulnerable adults.

A vulnerable adult includes anyone older than 65 and adults with the mental capacity of a child. Human trafficking of adults is currently a second-degree felony in Utah, but HB20 would make human trafficking of vulnerable adults specifically a first-degree felony.

Child trafficking is a first-degree felony not requiring proof of force, fraud or coercion because of the inability of children to grant consent. HB20 would apply the same legal framework to vulnerable adults.

HB20 was previously HB334, a bill in the 2018 legislative session which did not become law. This session, HB20 has so far been successful and awaits the governor’s action.

HB108

Another bill proposed by Romero would clarify children engaged in commercial sex should be considered victims.

HB108 would modify safe harbor laws’ language and require law enforcement officers to investigate whether encountered children engaged in commercial sex are trafficking victims.

“Anyone under the age of 18 can’t consent, so they’re considered a human trafficking victim, not an active participant in commercial sex,” Romero said.

If passed, children who are proven to be trafficking victims would not be charged for commercial sex or sexual solicitation. The case would be dismissed.

Under HB108, children proven to be trafficked would not face charges for commercial sex or sexual solicitation. With proof, the case against a child involved in trafficking would be vacated — dismissed as though it never happened.

A draft of the enrolled bill has been prepared and HB108 also awaits governor action.

HB192

HB192 would make it easier for victims of sexual abuse to prosecute perpetrators.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek. If passed, the bill would extend the statute of limitations from one year to four in cases that use DNA evidence to identify the defendant. Victims would have up to four years to begin the prosecution process after identifying the perpetrator.

HB192 awaits the governor’s action.

HB287

A bill sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, would alter the definition of “position of special trust” in aggravated child sexual abuse cases to protect higher education students under the age of 18.

According to Ivory, 3 percent of U.S. students graduate early from high school, meaning 20,000 students in Utah enter institutions of higher education before turning 18.

Current legislation includes public and private school employees at the elementary and secondary level in the list of people in a “position of special trust.” Those in a public or private university setting are not included in the definition.

The bill would add “an instructor, professor or teaching assistant at a public or private institution of higher education” to the definition of people in a position of trust.

Child sexual abuse is elevated to aggravated sexual abuse of a child when the abuser occupies a position of trust. The added wording makes penalties more serious, according to Ivory, who said sexual abuse at the university level is a problem.

HB287 has been met with a favorable response so far and had its second Senate reading on March 8.

The 2019 legislative session will conclude Thursday, March 14.

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