Utah can no longer afford a culture that perpetuates sexual violence



Enough of Utahns believing that women’s bodies are theirs to assault.

Enough of a state government that allows a rape culture to perpetuate itself, year after year, refusing to significantly invest in prevention.

Enough of abandoning rape victims, leaving them to struggle physically, emotionally, financially.

Utah can no longer avoid its rape problem. Or afford it.

The Utah Department of Health and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault released a report Wednesday showing that sexual violence cost the state nearly $5 billion in 2011, or nearly $1,700 per Utahn.


Perhaps now lawmakers will pay attention.

One in three Utah women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. So will one in 50 men.

Utah, with the seventh-lowest murder rate in the nation, ranks ninth in reported rapes. If we can keep people from killing one another, we can break the cycle of sexual assault.

That is, if we have the will.

As a state, we spent more than $92 million on violent sex offenders in 2011, according to “Costs of Sexual Violence in Utah.” Contrast that with spending on the victims of sexual assault: $16.5 million.

And Utah spending on the prevention of sexual violence? $569,000.

So, in 2011, 84.4 percent of state spending on sexual violence went toward offenders, 15.1 percent toward victims and 0.5 percent toward prevention.

Utah does not treat rape as a serious social or criminal issue until after the fact. And that needs to change.

Sexual assault shatters lives. For a glimpse of the devastation, look at the numbers — lost work, suffering and diminished quality of life, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancies, suicidal acts and substance abuse as a result of sexual violence cost Utah $4.5 billion in 2011 alone.

Ultimately, the value of a human life cannot be measured in dollars and cents. But perhaps a figure like $4 billion is large enough to capture the attention of Utahns, even though the 895 rapes reported to police in 2013 did not.

That was the number reported to police; more than 88 percent of rape victims never file a report, according to the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

We owe it to the victims of sexual violence to change Utah’s culture by investing in prevention and recovery.

Alana Kindness, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, points to the need for “a more comprehensive strategy” that addresses the needs of victims.

“This will require increased investment in services that can reduce the long-term costs of unaddressed victimization and a strong commitment to prevention,” she said in a news release.

If the Utah Legislature can direct the creation of gun safety classes for middle-schoolers, it can commit to identifying the states with lower reported rape rates — there are 41 — and adopting their strategies for breaking the cycle of sexual assault.

It may take years to make a meaningful difference. But every day we wait brings more rapes, more assaults and more damaged lives.

Utah can no longer afford a culture that perpetuates sexual violence.

This piece originally appeared in the Standard Examiner. Click here to read the original article.