Misconceptions about sexual assault abound in Utah

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Two women hold each other as they listen to a speaker during the Domestic Violence Awareness Walk vigil in October 2019 hosted by members of The Refuge Utah. The Refuge Utah is an organization that helps those who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and rape. (Lori Jenkins on The Refuge Utah Facebook Page)

Rape is the only violent crime in Utah that has a higher rate than the national average according to the Health Indicator Report of Sexual Violence from the Public Health Indicator Based Information System. Other violent crimes in Utah such as aggravated assault, robbery and homicide are half to three times lower than the national average.

Lori Jenkins, sexual assault services director at The Refuge Utah said there are misconceptions about sexual assault and rape which affect how BYU students and women approach actual cases with these crimes.

Jenkins said Utah has the 11th highest number of cases of sexual assault and rape in the country. However, a lot of people don’t think it could happen to them, their children, their siblings or their friends.

“Happy valley”

Jenkins said many people think because Utah doesn’t have more populated cities such as New York City, sexual assault or rape won’t happen here in “happy valley.” However, she said the statistic of Utah having the 11th highest rates of sexual assault and rape in the country shows it can happen anywhere, at any time, including Utah.

According to Stats of Sexual Assault Among Utah Women, one in six Utah women reported having been raped. (Kristine Kim)

According to 2016 Stats of Sexual Assault Among Utah Women, one in three Utah women have been sexually assaulted, and one in six women reported being raped.

Jenkins said many Utahns, including BYU students will go on famous dating apps like Mutual, an LDS dating app that launched in 2016. Many people will sometimes be too trusting of the people on the apps, she said. For example, seeing mission pictures or pictures of someone with a niece and nephew may cause both men and women to be too trusting since these people seem to have the same values as them.

However, dating apps might not be as safe as people think they are. While people shouldn’t distrust everyone, it might be good to be cautious of who they do trust, Jenkins said.

Furthermore, according to Stats of Sexual Assault Among Utah Women, BYU was the campus with the second highest reported occurrences of sexual assault compared to other schools across Utah in 2014, the last year for which a comparison of university statistics is available. These include the University of Utah, Salt Lake Community College, Snow College, Utah Valley University and four other colleges and universities in Utah.

According to Utah Valley University’s Utah Women Stats of Sexual Assault Among Utah Women, BYU was reported to be the campus with the second highest reported occurrences of sexual assault in 2014. (Utah Valley University Utah Women & Leadership Project)

Rape and sexual assault is only a “women problem”

Lisa Leavitt, lead advocate for BYU’s Sexual Assault Survivor Advocacy Series, said a misconception people have is that sexual assault and rape only happens to women. While a majority of sexual assault is perpetrated on women, there are men who are also victims of sexual assault and rape.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, nearly a quarter, or one in four men (24.8%) in the U.S. experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. (Kristine Kim)

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center nearly a quarter, or 24.8% of men in the U.S. experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.

False reporting

According to Title IX coordinator Tiffany Turley, there is a common misconception that false reporting happens more often than it actually does. Turley said recently, she was asked by someone how many reports of sexual assault and rape are false. She said almost none of them were.

Statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center show that the prevalence of false reporting for sexual assault crimes is quite low. Between 2% to 10% of reports are actually false.

“Stranger in the bushes”

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 51.1% of female rape victims reported being raped by an intimate partner, and 40.8% of women reported being raped by an acquaintance. (Kristine Kim)

Leavitt said one of the biggest misconceptions people have is that “the stranger in the bushes is going to jump out and attack somebody,” but she said that is rarely the case.

Approximately 90% of all sexual assault cases consist of the perpetrator being someone the survivor knows, whether it be someone in their intimate relationship, a family member, a friend or even a co-worker, Leavitt said.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 51.1% of female rape victims reported being raped by an intimate partner, and 40.8% of women reported being raped by an acquaintance.

“If you’re in a relationship and you’re sexually assaulted over and over again, you must have wanted it.”

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, nearly three in 10 women and one in 10 men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner.

Leavitt said another prevalent, common misconception is that those who are in a relationship and are sexually assaulted multiple times must have wanted it. If someone is in an abusive relationship, Leavitt said it is far from a normally functioning one. Therefore, manipulation and coercion can be normal, leading to the person being assaulted multiple times while in a relationship before they can finally reach out for help.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, no matter what term is used or how the relationship is defined, sexual activity should not be engaged in without someone’s consent.

Consent and intimate relationships

Jenkins said people have a misconception that if the victim didn’t yell, fight or run away, they were consenting to the rape or sexual assault.

However, most people don’t know that the most natural body response for people who experience sexual assault or rape, or are facing any form of danger is to freeze, Jenkins said. When someone freezes, their body tenses up and they are unable to move, scream or fight. According to The Washington Post, everyone has a different response when they are sexually assaulted or raped; however, many people will freeze.

Lisa Leavitt, lead advocate for BYU’s Sexual Assault Survivor Advocacy Series, said consent is mutual agreement by both parties to do what it is they are about to do intentionally. (Kristine Kim)

Leavitt said there are many misconceptions and myths around what consent means. Consent, she said, consists of a mutual agreement by both parties to do what it is they’re about to do intentionally.

Consent is verbally saying the word yes, and this is the only way to know if someone is consenting, Jenkins said.

“If it’s anything other than that, it is not consensual,” Leavitt said.

Victim blaming

“Victim blaming is still a thing and will probably always be a thing,” Turley said.

The misconception that women or men get sexually assaulted or raped based on what they are wearing is common, Jenkins said.

Sexual assault is one of the few crimes where the victim is put on trial and people try to figure out why and how it’s their fault, Jenkins said. “What were you wearing, what time did you go out, and were you drinking?” are all common questions that are asked.

Jenkins said many people tend to shift the blame onto the victim. She said asking victims what they were wearing and what time they were out makes it seem like it’s their fault, when in reality, it is never, ever the victim’s fault.

Responsibility needs to be shifted onto the perpetrators, not the victims

“One of the biggest problems that I come across is that our society still gives women almost 100% responsibility for stopping sexual assault,” Leavitt said, adding that the responsibility needs to be shifted onto the perpetrators, not the women.

Lori Jenkins, sexual assault services director at The Refuge Utah said perpetrators need to be held responsible for their actions. (Kristine Kim)

Jenkins also said perpetrators need to be held responsible for their actions.

“We need to put the blame where the blame belongs with the perpetrators and we need to follow up with electing people and backing people that will hold perpetrators accountable,” Jenkins said.

According to the Health Indicator Report of Sexual Violence from the Public Health Indicator Based Information System, the costs resulting from sexual violence in 2011 totaled to nearly $5 billion, almost $1,700 per Utah resident. The Utah government spent more than $92 million on perpetrators of sexual violence. However, only $569,000 was spent on efforts to prevent sexual violence.

Leavitt said there is more that can be done. “There is misplaced responsibility, we hold women primarily responsible for keeping themselves safe from sexual assault.”

Victims can find free resources

There are many resources for those who are sexually assaulted or raped in Utah and on BYU’s campus.

There are services that are free, Jenkins said, including services at The Refuge Utah in Orem. She said the center has free trauma-based therapy, free groups and free classes. The center also provides free medication and examinations. Jenkins said anyone who goes to the hospital to take an exam and receive medication from the doctor in the ER, receives those services free of charge.

The Refuge Utah provides additional resources including hotline advocates and volunteers used to help survivors with medical, physical, psychological and emotional help, Jenkins said.

Leavitt said BYU’s Sexual Assault Survivor Advocacy Services is not connected with the Honor Code Office nor Title IX. She said everything the office does is confidential; no one and nothing gets reported to the police. BYU’s Sexual Assault Survivor Advocacy Services provides multiple resources, including helping with restraining orders, contacts, letters, police intervention and every resource survivors might need.

The office also helps with negotiating, Leavitt said. If survivors are in need of a rape kit or anything in the hospital, there are advocates who will accompany them there or to the police station. She said if the survivors are BYU students and need to communicate with professors about coursework or exams they need to take soon, the services will communicate with the professors for them. Counseling, psychological services and support groups can also be provided through BYU’s Sexual Assault Survivor Advocacy Services.

Turley said Title IX helps survivors by connecting them to resources and the help and support they need. Title IX also makes sure both parties are given the chance to say their side of the story. She also said Title IX is separate from the Honor Code Office. Title IX’s policy says it is to keep everything confidential. There’s a confidentiality clause in the university’s policy which indicates that all information shared with Title IX about victims or witnesses is kept confidential within its office.

A domestic abuse hotline and sexual assault services are also provided by The Refuge Utah.

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