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Murray Journal

Community Education Night held to discuss ‘heartbreaking reality’

Feb 09, 2024 02:10PM ● By Tom Haraldsen

A community education night at Hillcrest Junior High discussed ways teachers and parents can help prevent child sexual abuse. (Photo courtesy of The Policy Project.)

A coalition of nonprofit organizations seeking to educate the public on child sexual abuse prevention held a Parent and Community Education Night on Jan. 17 at Hillcrest Junior High. It is one of five community events put on by The Policy Project, which promotes solution-based policies to remove barriers for women, children and those experiencing intergenerational poverty.

“We’re working to expand a bill passed by the Utah State Legislature in 2014 to further fund support for child sexual abuse education in K–6 schools,” said Jayden Davis, program and office manager for The Policy Project. “We’re seeking to strengthen the existing Utah code and secure more funding through a public–private partnership for schools. Currently, only 11% of Utah students receive this education.”

Davis said her organization, along with two others—Saprea and Prevent Child Abuse Utah—has a three-prong approach to addressing the problem: commit, legislate and work with the private sector. The statewide events, including in St. George, Davis County, Utah County and Cache County, seek to not just educate parents and community leaders about child sexual abuse prevention but also to create a curriculum where teachers and others have the tools to keep kids safe at school and at home.

“The heartbreaking reality is that child sexual abuse is widespread,” said Emily Bell McCormick, founder and president of The Policy Project. “Utah’s rates of child sexual abuse are higher than the national average, and we are not willing to look away.” She said Utah needs to “acknowledge the urgency, break the silence and work together for a future where our children are free from the shadows of sexual abuse.”

Davis said the legislation to be introduced to state lawmakers this session is sponsored by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee and Sen. Kirk Cullimore. It has yet to be assigned a bill number as of the date of this writing, but she expects it to be shortly.

At each of the training sessions, the adult target audience learns of age-appropriate content for teens and young children. Davis said it’s important that children have conversations about this subject with trusted adults.

Child sexual abuse is something that one in seven Utah children experience before the age of 18, with those ages 7 to 13 being the most vulnerable. Of those instances, 91% involve perpetrators known or previously trusted by the child, and more than half are committed by minors. The goal of The Policy Project is to shed light on the problem and the need for preventative measures. Child sexual abuse is the root cause of many problems such as suicide, incarceration, high school dropouts, and both physical and mental health challenges.

This is the third undertaking of The Policy Project, which has been in operation for the past three years. Previous efforts have included The Utah Period Project, which led to a state law mandating free period products in all K–12 schools in Utah as well as state-owned buildings; and The Teen Center Project, where centers have opened or are planned for many high schools and some junior high schools in Utah offering food, laundry facilities and places for rest for students. λ