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More than 200,000 Utah women have been raped. Join me in speaking out, Susan Madsen writes.

Susan R. Madsen Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics Director, Utah Women & Leadership Project Woodbury School of Business, Utah Valley University

Many of us have kids and grandkids who are obsessed with Disney’s latest earworm of a song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” which explains how one family refuses to acknowledge a troubled family member.

As a society we do the same, ignoring issues that make us uncomfortable or reflect badly on us. But denial does not make things go away, so I am going to once again wade in and talk about an issue that is woefully under-addressed: sexual assault in Utah.

Utah’s high levels of child sexual abuse and adult sexual assault have been of great concern to me through the years, and not just during April, which is “Sexual Assault Awareness Month.”

I’ve been writing more and more about it as we are not — as a society — taking it seriously or making much progress. For example, I recently wrote two articles on this very issue: “It’s time to break the silence about rape in Utah” and “We must confront child sexual abuse.” In addition, a few years ago I wrote a piece titled “1 in 5 Utah girls were sexually assaulted last year. That has to stop.”

During the past few years, I’ve been collaborating on efforts with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA). I’ve been impressed by the tireless work of Executive Director Liliana Olvera-Arbon and her staff and board. I’ve been learning more about the various direct services providers, community resources, the 24-hour crisis line, the Utah Sexual Assault Kit Tracking System, and more. I’ve also recently learned more about the work of the domestic and sexual violence portion of the Utah Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice.

Yet the Utah Legislature continues to underfund efforts to help survivors. Frankly, most decision makers still don’t talk about Utah’s problems in this area. And, of utmost concern, Utah does little in terms of prevention.

My questions then become: Shouldn’t preventing sexual abuse and assault of any kind be a top focus for Utah? Shouldn’t we put everything we have as Utahn’s behind protecting our children? Don’t we have a responsibility above all else to protect children, youth, and adults from trauma that will negatively impact lives forever?

As a reminder, here are some statistics:

  • Nearly 13% of Utahns report being molested before the age of 18, with more than one-third of those occurring before the age of 10. Based on the 2021 population estimates for Utah, I estimate that is 433,936 Utah children, youth, or adults.

  • 1 in 5 high school girls surveyed in Utah have been sexually assaulted just in the last year.

  • In past years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that 18.1% of Utah women have been raped — about 213,296 of Utah women living today.

  • The CDC also estimates that nearly half of Utah’s female population (47.8%) — more than 797,775 girls or women according to my calculations — have experienced some form of sexual violence in her lifetime other than rape.

Honestly, I don’t understand why this is not one of Utah’s top priorities! During “Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” at the very least, let’s pay attention to the campaigns and commit to learning more about how to prevent sexual assault and how to help in efforts to support survivors.

Silence on a topic won’t make it go away. It just adds to the stigma. Join me in speaking up and speaking out.

Dr. Susan Madsen is the Inaugural Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership & Director, Utah Women & Leadership Project

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