FAILURE TO PROTECT

‘Please report’: Salt Lake County leaders urge survivors of sexual assault to come forward

Apr 1, 2024, 6:37 PM | Updated: 6:53 pm

SALT LAKE CITY  — In Utah, rape is the only violent crime reported at a higher rate than the national average, even though research shows only about 12% of women who experience sexual assault will make a report to law enforcement.

“It’s time to talk about the problem of sexual assault in our country and draw attention to this issue,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. “And the need that we all have to share, to report sexual assault, to hold perpetrators accountable.”

Gill was joined by Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera and Sonya Martinez-Ortiz, executive director of Utah’s Rape Recovery Center at a press conference Monday to mark the beginning of April, designated as sexual assault awareness month.

“For anybody who has been assaulted, who may hear this message today, the Rape Recovery Center believes you, and we’re here for you,” Martinez-Ortiz said.

“We take every one of these cases seriously,” Rivera said. “If you’re a victim of a sexual assault, please report it to us. Lastly, remember, we will believe you.”

Sexual assault survivor Erin Van Berkel spoke about her personal experience coming forward. With her rapist now convicted and serving a prison sentence, she joined officials in encouraging others to come forward.

“It didn’t matter that it started out consensual,” Van Berkel said. “When I said ‘no’ and he kept going, it was rape.”

Research in Utah suggests out of 100 women who are sexually assaulted, only 12 will report to law enforcement, while the other 88 will not.

“What kind of a society and culture are we creating where survivors do not feel safe to be able to come forward and share that trauma?” Gill said.

100 figures representing women sexually assualted, 12 marked to show how many report

Research suggests if 100 Utah women are sexually assaulted, only 12 will report to law enforcement. (KSL TV)

For more than a year, the KSL Investigators have been digging into gaps in Utah’s criminal justice system through our Failure to Protect series, uncovering failures that leave predators free and Utahns unprotected.

For example, the KSL Investigators uncovered a troubling trend of investigators closing cases without ever trying to talk to the suspects.

Troubling Trend: KSL Investigators uncover sexual assault cases closed without attempts to contact suspects

When asked how his office will work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that cases are being thoroughly investigated when survivors do come forward, Gill said, “I think it’s incumbent upon each of the law enforcement leadership to be able to say, ‘How are we processing this case?’”

“It’s very few times we’ll say, ‘There’s just no case there,’” Gill said. “If there’s a follow-up to be done, the prosecutor is available to tell them what is missing.”

Rivera said it comes down to training and consistently improving the investigative process.

“We’re all working together to do the very best that we can to bring justice for these survivors,” she said.

Van Berkel said she wants Utahns to understand sexual assault is happening far too often and it is not being reported nearly enough.

“I had a lot of support that I wouldn’t have, had I not reported,” she said. And Van Berkel had a message to members of law enforcement investigating these difficult cases:

 It’s so important, first of all, to believe us … Do your best to investigate these crimes, to get as much evidence as possible, and support them.


If you have experienced sexual violence, you can access help and resources by calling calling Utah’s 24-hour Sexual Violence Helpline at (801) 736-4356. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for free, confidential counseling.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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‘Please report’: Salt Lake County leaders urge survivors of sexual assault to come forward