Sexual assault: Finding the courage to speak about it

April 22, 2018 GMT

We may not like to think about the sad and disturbing topic of sexual assault, but starting the discussion might help survivors feel comfortable and courageous enough to come forward and get help.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the outreach occurring is encouraging. The hope is it will continue when the month is over.

According to the Utah Department of Health, in 2016, 9.7 percent of adults in Utah reported experiencing sexual violence, which is defined as sexual activity that involves victims who do not consent. This can include unwanted physical contact and unwanted sexual situations. One in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.

Earlier this month, I wrote an article about members of the Pleasant Grove Police Department pledging to “Start by Believing.” They are not alone.

Thousands of people, including members of police departments and other organizations around the country, have joined the Start By Believing campaign (www.StartByBelieving.org) to let sexual assault survivors know that they will be believed and their claims will be thoroughly investigated. Since only about a third of sexual assault crimes are ever reported to police, this is an important step to try to increase that amount.

According to startbybelievingutah.org, friends and family are often the first ones who are confided in after an assault. Reactions are important. It’s appropriate to express concern and support, but to avoid the “why” questions, such as “Why were you wearing that?” or “Why were you alone with that person?” Many are afraid to tell someone or to report the crime to police for fear of being judged or not being believed.

Kortney Hughes, victim services coordinator for Provo Police Department said reporting of sexual assault is increasing, probably due to more movements and outreach.

“This is giving survivors the courage,” she said.

While males are the most underreported group, they are also reporting more in the last couple of years.

“They are becoming more comfortable coming forward to talk about it,” Hughes said. “But, it’s definitely still very underreported.”

Every police department in Utah County has at least one victim advocate, according to Hughes. Many people do not realize that anyone can call to talk to a victim advocate, even if no police report is filed. The advocates can be a great help to victims of sexual assault as well as other crimes. They can let the victims know about available services, support groups, other agencies and shelters to help them get out of dangerous situations.

“It’s a personal choice whether they go public and report to police,” she said.

In addition to victim advocates, victims of sexual assault can also find help by calling the Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at (888) 421-1100, the Center for Women and Children in Crisis at (801) 356-2511 or the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault at (801) 746-0404. More information and resources can also be found at www.health.utah.gov.

“If they decide to report, they will have us by their side,” Hughes said.