Sexual Assault Among Utah Women: A 2022 Update

Sexual assault is a significant social, criminal justice, and healthcare issue in Utah. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) database, rape is the only violent crime in Utah with higher rates (55.5 per 100,000 people) than the national average (42.6 per 100,000 people). The high number of rapes reported in the data is especially concerning as only 11.8% of individuals who have experienced rape or sexual assault in Utah reported the crime to law enforcement. In 2007, the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice conducted an anonymous survey and discerned that one in three Utah women experienced sexual assault in their lifetimes, and one in six Utah women experienced rape (sexual assault with vaginal or anal penetration). Utah is ranked 9th out of the 50 US states for number of rapes per capita. Rape results in significant individual and societal costs. Individuals traumatized by rape frequently suffer negative short- and long-term physical, psychological, and emotional effects. In fact, the financial burden of rape is estimated to cost $1,700 per Utah resident per year. 

The purpose of this snapshot is to provide updated research findings on sexual assault in Utah, specifically for Utah women. This is an update of a 2016 Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) research snapshot titled “Sexual Assault Among Utah Women,” which provided an overview of Utah’s sexual assault facts and statistics, a review of campus sexual assault in Utah, and a discussion of the financial and well-being costs of sexual assault in the state. The purpose of this updated snapshot is to share research findings on the demographics of sexual assault victims/survivors across Utah, sexual assault kit submission rates, and sexual assault case prosecution rates in two highly populated counties 

Demographic Information 

Utah researchers have collected data on adolescent/adult sexual assault cases from sexual assault medical forensic examination (SAMFE) forms from eight Utah counties. The information on victim demographics helps identify victim vulnerabilities. The researchers prefer to consider these variables as vulnerabilities rather than as risk factors to emphasize that individuals are not to be blamed for being sexually assaulted. Rather, they are victimized due to their personal or situational vulnerabilities. 

  • Regarding personal vulnerabilities, young women are more vulnerable for sexual assault, although women of all ages were represented in the study population. 
  • Approximately 4.7% of victims are men and 0.4% are transgender. 
  • Almost one-quarter of victims reported that they did not have a permanent address, indicating homelessness or lower socioeconomic status. 
  • Most sexual assaults occur in houses or apartments (62.6%), followed by other locations (e.g., motels, bars, restaurants, businesses), cars/automobiles, and the outdoors. 
  • 16.2% of victims reported that they suspected they were drugged prior to the sexual assault, which is referred to as “suspected drug-facilitated sexual assaults.” 

Additional Descriptive Data 

SAMFE forms also include information on the relationship between victims and assailants, as well as the assailants’ and victims’ actions, to address potential future safety concerns and to guide the examinations and evidence collection processes. In fact, 76.6% of sexual assault victims knew their assailant, with the most common relationship categorized as “acquaintance,” such as friend or date. More than eighteen percent of victims (18.5%) reported being raped by a “stranger,” defined by the researchers as someone whom the victim did not know their name and had less than approximately two hours of interaction. The percentage of rapes by current spouse/partner (6.9%) were slightly above rapes by ex-partners (5.7%), predominantly ex-boyfriends. 

Prosecution Rates 

In 2013, the National Institute of Justice released a Toolkit and statistical program developed to evaluate prosecution rates of adult sexual assault cases in which victims received care from sexual assault nurse examiners with sexual assault kit evidence collection. In 2013, the Utah team implemented this Toolkit in Salt Lake County for adult sexual assault cases from 2003 to 2011 and found that 6.0% of cases were prosecuted (trial with conviction, trial with acquittal, or plea bargain). 

Improvements in sexual assault kit submissions has been substantial, yet prosecution of sexual assault crimes remains low. Clearly, to reduce sexual violence in Utah, additional funds and support are now needed within the criminal justice system to improve sexual assault investigation and prosecution rates. 

Conclusion

With the high rates of sexual assault in Utah, continued research on adult and child sexual assault cases is critically important. Research can inform both practice and policy to improve care for sexual assault survivors and reduce sexual violence throughout Utah. Through research and commitment to evidence-based policy development, Utah can reduce sexual violence, leading to a safer and healthier state. 

To learn more about sexual assault among Utah women, read the full snapshot

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