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Senators share personal stories of abuse during debate of bill

Senate gives preliminary nod to child sex abuse prevention bill

SHARE Senators share personal stories of abuse during debate of bill
Why is it harmful to give parents just one more piece of information? – Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Aaron Osmond said Tuesday that, as a child, he was a victim of abuse by a nonrelative.

Osmond, R-South Jordan, was followed by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, who said he was attacked by a man while he was in the seventh grade and walking through a field on his way to school.

Then Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, stood and told the story of a Boy Scout leader who asked him to pose shirtless for a photograph. He thought nothing of it at the time but eventually realized the man was likely working up his courage to molest a young boy.

"My parents never talked to me about that stuff," Weiler said. "They sent me off with my church Scout troop."

The senators' comments came during an at-times emotional floor debate of HB286, which would create a curriculum of child abuse prevention training and materials for Utah's public schools.

The bill was approved on second reading with a vote of 20-8 and will be read again prior to final passage, but much of Tuesday's debate focused on whether parents should be required to opt-in their students for the program, or simply be allowed to opt-out.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, proposed an amendment requiring that parents provide written permission for their children to receive the sexual abuse prevention materials.

A similar opt-in amendment was proposed and defeated in the Senate Education Committee, but Dayton said the sensitive nature of the sexual abuse prevention materials warranted added scrutiny from parents.

"Why is it harmful to give parents just one more piece of information?" she said.

But several lawmakers argued that there were already adequate protections in the bill, such as a requirement that families be notified in advance of the classes and given the opportunity to review the materials and participate with their children. The concern was also raised that requiring an opt-in from parents could result in abusive parents impeding their children from receiving the training they need.

"To change this to an opt-in would leave the most critical and vulnerable children at risk," Thatcher said.

It was Thatcher's training in kung fu as a child, he said, that taught him he had a right to defend himself. He said he fought against his attacker and drew the attention of people nearby, but not before the zipper on his pants had been ripped off.

"When that man laid hands on me, I fought like a demon," Thatcher said. "I punched, I kicked, I scratched, I bit and I screamed my little 70-pound head off."

Osmond said his parents were loving and supportive of his brothers and sisters, but as a family they did not discuss issues like abuse prevention. He worried that busy parents would forget to submit their permission slips, leaving children without the information that they need.

"For me this is about child safety," he said. "This isn’t a discussion of sex or sexuality. This is about helping a child realize that it’s OK to say 'no.'"

But other lawmakers took issue with the implication that families are either inadequate or, at worst, a threat the government needs to protect children from. Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, said that requiring an opt-in would not undermine the intent of the bill and he added that the government is meant to be an agent of the state's families.

"I think reasonable people can differ on this, but I think the starting point is, 'Are we respecting the parent?'" he said.

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, spoke in favor of an opt-in requirement. He said most people can agree with the goal of protecting children, but the intent of the bill should be to empower families.

"I still have faith and trust in parents, especially parents in this state, that they will do the right thing," he said.

The amendment failed in a narrow vote, allowing a vote to move forward on the original bill. HB286 was approved in a unanimous 73-0 vote of the House last month.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood