A bill aiming to give survivors of sexual assault an assurance of confidentiality when speaking with campus advocates was met with questions by members of the House Judiciary Committee this week.
Bill sponsor, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said the purpose of HB 251 is to give survivors a safe space to disclose their experiences in the hopes that more will come forward and report instances of sexual violence at universities.
Committee member Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, worries the bill doesn't encourage victims to come forward to law enforcement in a timely manner, potentially allowing for harm to come to other students.
"What if the advocate notices a common perpetrator or a theme," Lisonbee said. "And at what point does the university have liability if there’s five young ladies who have been raped by the same man and the advocate knows but the advocate is under confidentiality and can’t disclose that information? What happens when there’s a sixth rape by this person?"
Romero said instances like those Lisonbee described are rare, and that research shows the confidentiality bill would makes it easier for victims to disclose sexual assault. Romero drafted the bill with help of survivor advocacy groups, the Utah Board of Regents and the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
James Morales, vice president of student affairs at Utah State University, spoke in favor of the bill. He said the university prioritizes the safety of USU students, and also provides victims with options for reporting and advocacy.
"There’s always a tension clearly between privacy and the need to report," Morales said. "That tension will always be there, but it’s an attempt to find the right balance. We believe, and the reason we support this bill and I’m here to speak on its behalf, the bill has found that right balance."
USU administrators have been scrutinized for the handling of rape victim reports involving former USU student and football player Torrey Jordan Green. As a result, the I Will Campaign was introduced to provide students with resources for reporting sexual assaults and harassment.
USU is one of several Utah institutions of higher education reviewing policies related to sexual assaults on college campuses.
After more than an hour of debate, HB 251 was unanimously approved and will be considered by members of the house and senate.