Lawmakers aim to help trauma victims through justice system

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4utah) - Lawmakers are proposing a bill that would help trauma victims as they navigate through dealing with the justice system. The goal is to have trauma informed practices in place from dispatchers and police to courts and parole boards.

Rep. Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) and Sen. Luz Escamilla (D-Rose Park) are sponsoring H.B 177 which aims to do just that. The bill would study the issue for about a year while fixing immediate issues already identified.

On Tuesday they met with advocates and survivors to discuss the proposed legislation and hear the experiences people have had when they had trauma.

Jennifer Livsey and her children had to deal with serious trauma after her husband was arrested for sexual abusing her daughter. Livsey said she and her family went through serious emotional and physical problems while going through the process.

"All of us my daughter, my son, and me, we all experienced nightmares, depression, anxiety, unrealistic fears," said Livsey.

She said even though police were helpful and prosecutors gave her information on things that would help, Livsey said because of her trauma it didn't properly register.

During the meeting Livsey told how her daughter shook from head to toe with fear when she spoke in front of the parole board. Although she said it was recommended he spend eight more years in jail they weren't warned when it was announced he was being released.

"If anybody is wondering if there is really a hell, there is a hell," said Livsey. "It's when you find out your offender is going to be released."

Rep. Ivory said the legislation aims to help trauma victims better navigate the system.

"So often it's the state versus the criminal," said Rep. Ivory. "Well it's important that we raise and elevate and honor the interest of victims in the system."

Although the legislation calls for a study, the hope is to have those who work in the justice system be trauma informed. Studies have shown those who have suffered a major trauma often don't comprehend or remember everything like the normally would.

Several police agencies are already using this method in dealing with victims of traumatic events like rape and sexual assault. They've already seen better outcomes for victims and their cases.

Sen. Luz Escamilla said this isn't about calling out any one agency, but instead making sure everyone is on the same page. That way victims of traumatic crimes get similar treatment no matter where they live.

"It's just about time we make our best practices the best and make sure the state of Utah is behind something that makes sense when it comes to serving survivors," said Sen. Escamilla.

Lawmakers expect the bill to be passed during this session.

If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault, rape, or domestic violence there are several agencies throughout the state that can offer resources and help.

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