SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah lawmaker is working on new statewide rules requiring college counselors to keep sex abuse reports confidential. The proposal comes after Mormon-owned Brigham Young University last year faced major backlash when it was revealed it shared sex assault information with its honor code office.
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said this week her legislation was not spurred by the controversy at the Mormon-owned school but would apply to private schools like BYU and public universities.
Romero said she instead began drafting the bill after she was alerted to a patchwork of policies among Utah universities, leaving some campus counselors forced to report assaults to administrators.
Turner Bitton, the executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said 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.
Those counselors help students by listening to their concerns, referring them to other services or helping them change class schedules or living situations, among other assistance.
But information students share with them about sex assaults, including their identities, may not be confidential, which can be “a giant barrier to someone reporting on campus,” Bitton said.
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 that bans drinking and premarital sex.
The change came after several sexual assault victims said they felt silenced by the policy and the Provo university launched an internal review.
The probe found that the Title IX office on campus 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.
Romero said it’s important for all colleges to have the same standards.
Her legislation, which has not yet been made public for lawmakers to consider, would also apply to student victim reports of domestic violence, sexual harassment and dating violence.
The Utah Board of Regents, the governing body for Utah’s higher education system, supports Romero’s bill and is working with her to finalize its language, spokeswoman Melanie Heath said Friday.
Heath said the many colleges and universities are taking steps already to notify students about their confidential and non-confidential options.
She said there is a mix of options among colleges and not every school offers confidential services on campus.