Men Opting In and Speaking Up: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
In a very surprising and rare occurrence in a debate about Child Sexual Abuse Prevention trainings on the floor of the Utah State Senate, three male Senators disclosed their personal experiences of sexual abuse and attempted abuse as children. The three men disclosed openly and publicly during a floor debate on bill (HB 286) proposed by Angela Romero of Salt Lake City. The bill would allow public schools to teach children, age-appropriate instruction on how to recognize and report abusive acts. The new law was up for a full vote after having passed unanimously through the Utah House and a Senate sub-committee. The bill would provide instruction to children on how to be alert to inappropriate touch, keeping secrets, and telling a trusted adult.
The disclosures came during a debate on a challenge to amend the bill from a parent-permitted class, “opt-out,” to an “opt-in,” where parents would have to sign a note allowing their children to attend the session. This change would severely “gut” the bill because parents may not notice the note, children sometimes forget to bring notes back and forth, or parents potentially refrain from signing permission because there may be abuse in the home.
Senator Aaron Osmond from South Jordan, UT said “as a child, I was the recipient of abuse by a non-family member. It was a devastating experience to me personally.” He discussed how his family didn’t talk about these things and he guessed that his parents would have probably missed the notices from school. “This isn’t a discussion about sex or sexuality,” Osmond said, “this is about recognizing that it is okay to say “no” and to stop an adult in any setting, whether it is in the home or in school or any other environment where they feel unsafe… but there are multiple parents in our society who are so stressed out, working multiple jobs, they will not engage on this issue and the child will be vulnerable”.
Another Senator, Daniel Thatcher spoke about his assault in 7th grade. He fought back and screamed and someone heard him and came to his rescue but not before the male assailant had “ripped the zippers off my pants.” “This is happening ,“ added Thatcher, “and statistically, Aaron and I are not the only members of this body who have had these experiences as children.”
A few minutes later, another Senator, Todd Weiler, talked about a “grooming” experience he had while at a Mormon Scout Camp. He said it took him about 5 years to figure out that the incident was probably a practice to molest.
The role of parents in giving permission for child abuse prevention classes and the way that they give it or withhold it has been an issue discussed for many years and the general wisdom is that “opt-ins” don’t work and school districts usually give parents the right to “opt out.”
What was striking in this debate, was that three adult men in one Senate session were moved to disclose that they were familiar with the issue of child sexual abuse and had been directly affected as young boys. They made very powerful statements in a very public space and they stood up for children gaining information and knowledge about a subject that needs to be discussed in schools.
To me this is a clear sign that abuse of boys is finally coming out of the shadows as men disclose, discuss and stand proud to protect children — all children. Thank you Senators from Utah, for OPTING IN and SPEAKING UP!
– By Patti Occhiuzzo Giggans
Patti Giggans is the Executive Director of Peace Over Violence. Peace Over Violence is dedicated to building healthy relationships, families and communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence. She is also the Vice-President of the Board of Directors for 1in6.