Bill to teach consent in Utah schools fails to pass committee

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Sadie Anderson
HB177 would have brought sexual assault prevention to Utah schools through teaching what does and does not qualify as consent. (Sadie Anderson)

A bill that would have required Utah schools to include consent in their public sex education curriculum was defeated this week in Utah’s House Education Committee.

HB177 was rejected by the education committee in a 7-4 vote. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake and written by BYU Law faculty member Brittney Herman.

The education amendment bill aimed to bring sexual assault prevention to Utah schools. Utah already has laws intact about teaching consent, but the bill sought to clarify those guidelines to include teaching what things do not classify as consent.

Herman said she was inspired to write the bill following her own experience with sexual assault. She felt that if the person who had assaulted her had received proper education on the topic, things may have ended differently.

In Utah, rape is one of the only violent crimes that is higher than the national average. According to the Utah Department of Health, one in three Utah women will experience sexual abuse at some point in their lives.

“Every other violent crime is lower, but rape is higher. So clearly the education we currently have is not sufficient,” Herman said.

Representatives had qualms with many facets of the bill, Herman said. One of the issues was that some legislators felt that it was inappropriate to teach middle and high school-aged children about sexual violence, as it could be potentially triggering for them.

University of Utah law student Madison Barr felt those concerns were not a valid argument against teaching consent in school. “Unfortunately, children are also victims of sexual abuse and sexual violence. Maybe your child won’t be a victim, but more children you know will be victims.”

Despite the bill being defeated in committee, Herman said she felt hopeful for the future of her bill and hopes to revise it and bring it back to legislators in order to hopefully get it past the committee. “I think that’s what’s best for Utah students, so while I’m a little bit disappointed I am definitely also hopeful that we can get something passed.”

Herman founded and continues to run We Will, a nationwide organization dedicated to preventing sexual assault and supporting survivors. The organization works through formal and informal education to help educate others on the topic. Those interested in can visit its website.

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