SALT LAKE CITY — Sexual violence, including rape, costs Utahns billions of dollars every year.
The individual toll is much harder to tally.
Helping people recognize sexual assault and having the tools to deal with it in private and public settings can be helpful to victims and bystanders alike, he said.
"It is a skill set that is applicable to so many things in life," Bitton said, adding that violence of any kind has broad societal impacts, making it everyone's problem.
The Utah Department of Health's Violence and Injury Prevention Program, along with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault and various rape prevention programs in the state, wants to educate Utahns regarding intervention, hoping bystanders can make a difference in the occurrence or frequency of sexual assaults.
"Many people just aren't sure what to do to help others, or they think someone else will help," said Marty Liccardo, men's engagement specialist with the health department program. "Intervention aims to empower people to step up and act when they hear or see harm."
Health department statistics show that 1 in 3 Utah women will experience some form of sexual violence during their lives. In addition, 1 in 8 Utah women and 1 in 50 Utah men will be raped.
Direct and indirect costs associated with such violence was estimated to be $5 billion in 2011, according to a 2015 report funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report states that the greatest cost was "due to the pain, suffering and diminished quality of life that victims experienced."
Bitton said sexual assault is often mistaken as a "crime of passion," when "at the end of the day, it is a crime of power and control" that stems from unhealthy expectations, unhealthy masculinity and unhealthy forms of self-expression, which can be awkward and uncomfortable subjects to approach with people.
"As an advocate, I like to think that if I was with a friend and he was acting inappropriately, I would definitely intervene," he said. "But the reality is that it is a lot harder than you think."
Bystanders to an argument between friends or partners, Liccardo said, don't know how to act or whether they should. But if the actions seen are harmful to another person, group or community, the available training program outlines the importance of saying something or getting help for those being victimized.
Research suggests that bystander intervention is effective but requires practice to understand social cues and actions, as well as confidence to be successful.
"Through the training, we make it a little easier," Bitton said, adding that intervention doesn't always involve yelling at someone or jumping into a situation, but carefully shifting the topic or redirecting attention.
The free training, which is offered to anyone from church, school, community and Scouting groups to law enforcement agencies and employers throughout the state, encourages distraction techniques and silent stares or simply making people aware that they are being observed or calling them out for inappropriate actions or behavior in public.
The bystander, however, must first make sure they are safe and will continue to be safe upon intervention and can recruit others to help.
Bitton said the first person who acts can be a catalyst for others to step in, guaranteeing that situations are attended to.
For more information on the program, visit health.utah.gov/vipp.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted and needs help, call the 24/7 Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 888-421-1100.