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‘Never been more urgent': Service providers rally lawmakers for sexual violence prevention

Legislature says he’s pushing for an appropriation to prevent sexual assault in an attempt to ‘expand the toolbox’ of local providers and parents

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People attend a Rape Crisis Center Rally at the Utah State Capitol, January 17, 2024.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Charlee Baxter didn't realize she was in an abusive relationship at the time, but she discovered her high school relationship wasn't what it had seemed when a stressful situation later "triggered" the realization of the "bad situation" she had been in.

Now a college student, Baxter joined with several domestic violence and rape recovery organizations to rally at the Capitol in Salt Lake City Wednesday, sharing her story to urge lawmakers to approve a $3.25 million appropriation for sexual violence prevention.

Baxter said she has come to learn that "each one of us are a product of our environment," telling KSL.com that her high school boyfriend didn't have role models of a healthy, loving relationship at home.

"I come from a home where I had great relationships and I definitely had a great example, and still there was a lack of, 'Oh, this isn't OK,'" Baxter said of her relationship. "I definitely think it should be talked about in every environment because you just never know what conversation is actually going to spark change."

Rep. Tyler Clancy, R-Provo, said he's pushing for the appropriation to prevent sexual assault, which he described as an attempt to "expand the toolbox" of local providers and parents, making sure "we're going upstream and not just spending lots of money downstream with the response." That money will help local service providers educate people on what goes into a healthy relationship, among other things.

House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City — who has proposed a litany of bills to protect survivors of sexual assault during her time in the Legislature — said it was "so refreshing and so nice to have colleagues on the other side of the aisle" who want to address the issue.

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Kendra Wycliffe, executive director of Peace House, left, rape survivor Charlee Barker and Liliana Olvera-Arbon, executive director of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault , gather following a Rape Crisis Center Rally at the Utah State Capitol, January 17, 2024.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

She noted that Utah has a higher rate of rape compared to the national average and urged other lawmakers to take steps to address the problem before it happens, rather than just penalizing perpetrators.

"I think people tend to forget that when someone is a victim of sexual assault, child sex abuse, or any form of abuse, it's the whole family that experiences that. And sometimes that trauma can be carried on from generation to generation," Romero said.

Liliana Olvera-Arbon, the executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, noted that in 2011 the cost of sexual violence amounted to nearly $5 billion in the state — equivalent to about $1,700 per resident.

"The need to prevent violence and support survivors has never been more urgent," she said. "We commend the Legislature for recognizing that to truly end sexual violence in Utah we must invest in prevention, but the work is not done."