After emotional debate — in which two senators acknowledged publicly for the first time they were sexually assaulted as children — the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill requiring development of a school program to teach children about sexual abuse.
"We need to take a stand on this and teach children how to protect themselves," said Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, who told colleagues he was abused by a non-family member as a child.
Osmond said the curriculum would give children "tools to say you can push back against an adult, you can say it’s wrong."
Osmond and Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, each said they had been abused or assaulted and a third lawmaker, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, told of a Boy Scout leader who had inappropriate contact with him.
Thatcher recounted how he was walking to school when he was attacked by a man. He said he fought back and made enough noise so someone stopped the attack, after the man had ripped the zipper on his pants.
"This is happening, and statistically, Aaron and I are not the only members of this body who had that experience as a child," said Thatcher. "This is happening and if we do not act, it will continue to happen."
HB286s1 allows schools to teach age-appropriate information about sexual abuse and train teachers. Parents can review the material and opt out of the program if they wish.
But several senators expressed concerns that the government was overstepping its bounds and imposing on families — even creating mistrust among children toward their parents.
"At best, families are inadequate, but at worst they are the majority of abusers, as has been stated on the floor, and I don’t buy that for a minute," said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs. "It’s based on this false premise that families are inadequate or families are evil and therefore the government must [intervene]."
And Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, questioned whether the Legislature was respecting parental rights and ignoring that "government yields to the sanctity of the family."
"The assumption the state automatically must protect children from their parents is disturbing to me," Reid said.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, proposed a change to the bill, requiring parents to voluntarily opt in to the abuse education, rather than allowing them to opt out, as the bill is currently written.
But Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said the amendment would defeat the purpose of the bill.
"It usually, in fact most commonly, is someone in their own family who is the perpetrator [of abuse]," Jones said. "By having them opt in, it completely guts the bill. It defeats the purpose."
The attempt to amend the bill failed narrowly and the Senate gave it preliminary approval, 20-8. It will likely go to a final vote tomorrow.
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