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BYU researcher examines why Utah has high numbers of sexual assaults

Aug 3, 2022, 6:45 PM | Updated: Oct 10, 2022, 3:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — About two-thirds of the reported sexual assault cases in Utah never make it to prosecution according to a study the Utah Women and Leadership Project released recently.

Utah remains at the top of the list when it comes to the number of sexual assaults. The state has been there for the past thirty years.

The study is based on data from several years of rape kits. Who is submitting them and why?

“We looked at vulnerabilities for sexual assault. Who in our community are more vulnerable for sexual assault,” said Doctor Julie Valentine, at Brigham Young University. She led the study with the help of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, based at Utah State University.

“We found that women of color, specifically black women and Native American women were more highly represented,” she said.

Doctor Julie Valentine from Brigham Young University led the study with the help of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, based at USU. (KSL TV)
(KSL TV) The Utah Women and Leadership Project (KSL TV)

The data helped the researchers take a closer look at who’s more likely to be targeted. It found that women with mental illness rank higher too.

Valentine said, “When you think about that, a perpetrator is going to target some who is more vulnerable, someone with anxiety or depression who may not be engaged with a group, but more on the fringes – is more vulnerable for sexual assault.”

On a more positive note, Valentine said the number of cases with submitted rape kits is way up to 98 percent. It was 20 percent a decade ago, though there is a more concerning flip-side.

“How many of these law enforcement screened with the prosecutors? And we found it’s only about a third,” she said.

Valentine said the reasons vary, including survivors who decide they don’t want to move forward in part because perpetrators are usually someone they know.

“And you know the betrayal that they feel, they really need support to go through this process,” she explained.

She added that in order to see more cases prosecuted, we need more resources for survivors and law enforcement.

“We create a culture where victims feel comfortable coming forward and reporting and then we provide services,” she said.

In addition to sending the message that you can’t get away with it here, Valentine said through prosecution, offenders can get effective treatments and counseling which can help prevent re-offending in the future.

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BYU researcher examines why Utah has high numbers of sexual assaults