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Utah lawmakers look to reform college sex assault reporting


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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers unanimously backed a bill on Thursday that would require college counselors to keep sexual abuse reports confidential, almost one year after Mormon-owned Brigham Young University faced a major backlash when it was revealed it shared assault victim information with its honor code office.

Lawmakers on a Senate law enforcement committee voted in favor of the proposal after a short discussion on how requiring confidentiality could help more victims feel comfortable reporting a sexual assault.

"This places the victim in control," said Julie Valentine, assistant nursing professor at BYU, during the meeting. "Rape takes away their control."

The proposal by Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, would also apply to student reports of domestic violence, sexual harassment and dating violence, and will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

Turner Bitton, of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, has said that current confidentiality laws only cover victim advocates and counselors who work in law enforcement, community nonprofits or are covered by medical privacy laws.

But other counseling college students may receive on campus could come from advocates required to report assaults.

BYU announced in October that it was revising policies and would no longer investigate student victims who reported sex assaults for violations of the school's strict honor code, which bans drinking and premarital sex, among other things.

The change came after an internal review found that the Title IX office on campus, established through a federal gender discrimination law known as Title IX that bars sexual harassment or a hostile education environment, sometimes shared victims' names and details of assaults with the honor-code office after investigations were completed.

At Utah State University in Logan, university officials last fall changed their confidentiality and amnesty policies to notify students which college officials provide confidential help and which college staff — including faculty — are required to report sex assaults.

The school's changes were part of its response to an investigation by The Salt Lake Tribune that reported numerous women had reported assault against the same football player but found little progress made their cases.

Earlier this week, lawmakers rejected a bill that would have allowed colleges to send some reports of sex assault to law enforcement without victims' consent.

The proposal by Republican Rep. Kim Coleman appeared dead after a tight vote in the House of Representatives amid concern that it would take control out of the hands of the victims and result in fewer students coming forward.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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