ST. GEORGE — By the time they reach age 18, 1 in 7 children is sexually abused in Utah, a number that ranks higher than the national average, but a presentation held this week showcased ways advocates intend to change that.

A presentation of the curriculum is provided as part of the Safe Child Project during the Policy Project’s event held at Utah Technical University’s Holland Centennial Commons Center in St. George, Utah, Jan. 9, 2024 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

On Tuesday, more than 100 people gathered at Utah Technical University’s  Holland Centennial Commons Center for a presentation on the Safe Child Project, a child sexual abuse prevention education program that is slated to be implemented across the state. 

The event involved a collaborative effort between the Policy Project and Prevent Child Abuse Utah, and included a presentation of the curriculum that, if funded, will be implemented in all elementary schools statewide. 

The policy program’s founder, Emily Bell McCormick, said the program is designed to expand child sexual abuse prevention education in Utah and serves as a necessary step in keeping children safe, considering that 1 in 7 Utah children will be sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18.

This rate is higher than the national average, and the financial impact of such abuse is staggering, she said, costing more than $1 billion across the state each year. 

The impact increases from there. Child sexual abuse is at the root of several downstream societal problems like suicide, incarceration, high school dropout rates and substance abuse, to name a few.

The most recent data suggest that in more than 90% of the cases reported the child is abused by someone they know and trust, and in more than half the cases, the perpetrators are minors. Sadly, McCormick said, the data also indicates that a child has to tell three people before the abuse is reported.

More than 100 gather for the Policy Project’s presentation regarding the Safe Child Project that is held at Utah Technical University’s Holland Centennial Commons Center in St. George, Utah, Jan. 9, 2024 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The springboard of the effort came in 2014, with the passing of HB 286, the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention law, which provided instructional materials and awareness training related to child sexual abuse prevention, but the bill was an unfunded mandate, which means it did not allocate any funding to provide sexual abuse and trafficking prevention education for Utah’s children.  

As a result, the education program has been privately funded through the efforts of Prevent Child Abuse Utah, which has covered roughly 11% of the elementary schools statewide, leaving nearly 90% without the program. The lack of funding has resulted in elementary schools in 10 rural counties statewide going without any child abuse and trafficking prevention training. 

To that end, the Policy Project is working on a bill that has yet to be numbered. If passed, the bill would ultimately provide state funding so the curriculum under the Safe Child Program can be implemented in all elementary schools across the state, said Mary Catherine Perry, the Policy Program’s director of policy and governmental affairs, during Tuesday’s event.  

The curriculum is designed and provided by Prevent Child Abuse Utah and consists of an age-specific, 30-minute presentation delivered to each class once a year that covers several topics, including tools for children to recognize the warning signs of sexual abuse and how to use technology safely. The curriculum also incorporates information on disclosing suspected abuse to a trusted adult, as well as providing tools to be safe and self-aware in various situations.

The program uses age-specific language that does not include the words “sexual” or “abuse” and is designed as an animated presentation using things like puppets and illustrations.

The educational program is also designed to remove the stigma associated with abuse and is geared toward engaging the family by having age-appropriate conversations with their children. Parents can also preview the curriculum and attend during classroom presentations, or they can choose to excuse their children from attending.

“Prevent Child Abuse Utah designs and implements the curriculum,” Perry said, “While the Policy Project works with legislatures to procure the funding needed so it can be implemented across the state.”

A portion of the educational presentation, as well as an address by Elizabeth Smart, a safety activist who gained national attention in 2014 when she was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City, is included in the video that can be viewed at the top of this report.

The evening also provided the opportunity to fill out “Safe Child Project” cards that were provided at each of the tables. Once completed, the cards were collected and will be presented to the Legislature at the opening of the 2024 Utah Legislative session as a call to action in support of the program.

The Policy Project 

The Policy Project is a nonprofit, non-partisan grassroots organization that promotes solution-based policies to remove any barriers to opportunity through solution-based policy at all levels in society — including policies of governments, businesses, families and individuals. They aim to improve the future of the children under the premise that communities flourish when every child has access to opportunity. 

Changing policy changes the future

The Policy Project’s founder, Emily Bell McCormick, addresses the crowd regarding the Safe Child Project during a presentation held at Utah Technical University’s Holland Centennial Commons Center in St. George, Utah, Jan. 9, 2024 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

While traditional charities focus on treating the immediate need and easing the problems facing society at any given time, which is important, these efforts generally require ongoing funding dedicated to the same issue, day after day, year after year and are not designed to solve the underlying problem. 

Alternatively, policy work targets the root cause of an issue by using resources to solve the problem permanently. These efforts allow volunteers to strategically make a difference for generations to come by changing laws that change the future. 

Project Safe Child is the third endeavor undertaken by the Policy Project in its three-year history. Past efforts have facilitated the launch of two successful programs that have had a significant impact on Utah’s youth. 

Project 1: Addressing ‘period poverty’ for high school students

The organization addressed “period poverty,” which is the lack of period products, by championing their efforts into HB 162, Period Products in Schools, which passed in the Utah Legislature and was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox in March of 2022. 

The bill offers funding to provide period products to high school students across the state who have little or no access; studies show that 1 in 4 students struggle to gain access to these items. 

The bill’s passing was paramount, the organization says, and has provided access to period products, clean water, private facilities and education on periods, which have been provided to more than 330,000 teenage girls.

Moreover, the project’s efforts have been instrumental in reducing the number of days of missed school and classes for these students whose lives are often disrupted if left unmanaged. 

Project 2: Implementing Teen Centers to serve the state’s most vulnerable teens 

Schools have long been on the frontlines of ensuring the basic needs of students are met, and the number of students in need is growing. In Utah, 1 in 50 students is classified as homeless, which is roughly 15,500 students across the state, and one-third of all students are on free or reduced lunch. 

To support and augment the efforts by the schools to meet student needs, the Policy Project created “Teen Centers,” which provide food pantries, laundry facilities and showers for students in need across the state through a partnership between the Utah Legislature and private donors. 

The program is designed to help these most vulnerable students graduate and prepare for success as adults. These centers are created by repurposing existing, underutilized space within high schools and by dedicating space for these services within newly built high schools.

As a result of the Policy Project’s efforts, in 2022, the Utah Legislature appropriated $15 million, while the project raised another $3 million from private donors, for these teen centers to be implemented in high schools across the state. Funding comes from a $250,000 grant that each school can apply for through the State Board of Education. 

To date, 54 high schools across the state have been awarded funding to build a teen center and roughly 60,000 teens now have access to these services.

Project Safe Child is the third program the Policy Project has undertaken with the overall goal of providing these youngsters with the tools they need to reach their full potential physically, mentally and emotionally through education and prevention. 

Anyone interested in volunteering with the Policy Project can view the list of openings and fill out an application on this website. For more information on the program, including donation information, go to The Policy Project.

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