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Utah has high reported-rape rate, but most victims silent

Published September 4, 2008 12:13 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah's reported-rape rate - already higher than the national average - drastically underestimates the actual incidence of rape, a new report indicates.

In a 2007 phone survey of more than 1,800 women, nearly 13 percent said they had been forcibly raped in their lifetimes, according to a report released Wednesday by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. An additional 16 percent were sexually assaulted in other ways, such as child molestation, drug-facilitated rape and attempted rape.

Fewer than 12 percent of those incidents were reported to police, the survey indicates. However, in a separate survey of victims of crimes committed in 2006, 25 percent of rape victims said they made a report to police - about the same rate of reporting among rape victims nationally.

"Campaigns exist all over to get people aware of [rape] and try to increase reporting," said Christine Mitchell, director of research for the commission.

Reluctance to report rape leaves a dark question mark over Utah's already high tally. According to the most recent federal crime report, Utah's rate of reported rapes was about 10 percent higher than the national average. Moreover, the sensitive nature of sex crimes may skew even anonymous surveys, said Katie McMinn, violence-prevention specialist for the state health department. Many victims remain in denial or do not realize that their experience qualifies as rape.

"When you say '25 percent,' that's still underreported," McMinn said.

Sex crimes were less likely to be reported than any other crimes in 2006, according to the crime-victimization study. For instance, victims were more than twice as likely to report vandalism as they were to report rape.

Victims of rapes in 2006 gave four reasons for not reporting the crime to police:

* Some said they "dealt with the incident in another way."

* Others described the incident as "minor."

* Others said they felt the police would not be able to help.

* Still others said they did not report because they know the perpetrator well.

Among victims who had been sexually assaulted at any time in their lives, 46 percent did not report the crime because they were too young to understand what had happened. More than one-third said the assault was too embarrassing to report, and one-third said they had believed the incident was too minor to be considered a crime. More than a quarter said they were afraid of retaliation, and a quarter said they did not think the police would believe them. Many others said they didn't go to police because the matter was handled within their families.

Of those who did report a sex assault to police, fewer than half said charges had been filed, and only 27 percent said their cases ended with convictions.

Of those who reported their assaults, 84 percent said they would advise other victims to do the same.

Of those who did not report, 72.5 percent said they would advise other victims to involve police.

ealberty@sltrib.com