Rape victims in Utah are often waiting weeks and months to get counseling help even as reported sexual assaults in the state continue to climb, advocates told a legislative interim committee Wednesday.
Rape is the only reported violent crime in Utah that exceeds the national average, a dubious status that may be the result of consistent reporting trends, a large under-18 population, tight-knit communities that are easy for perpetrators to exploit and a greater prevalence of "thinking errors" and wrong-headed attitudes about sexual violence, said Ron Gordon, executive director of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
"This is not an area where Utah is doing well compared to other states," Gordon told members of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.
In 2010, the most recent health department data available, there were 915 rapes reported in Utah, which is a rate of 64.6 per 100,000 females. The U.S. rate for 2010 was 54.2 per 100,000 females, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports.
Gordon and Ned Searle, director of the state Office on Domestic and Sexual Violence, asked the committee to consider legislation that would provide more money to help victims get treatment. At present, only a small percentage of restitution owed by defendants is paid. They suggested that a portion of fines assessed when a person is convicted of a sex crime be used to help provide therapy.
"There is no normal time line for recovery and healing can not be hurried," Searle said.
Gordon told the committee there is a sizable "unmet need" among victims who want and need counseling, but are unable to get it at all or in a timely fashion a point that resonated with Rep. Jennifer M. Seelig, D-Salt Lake. One of her constituents who was sexually assaulted had to wait three months to get into therapy.
"That's ridiculous," Seelig said. "By that time frame, I think even more damage has been done."
At the Rape Recovery Center, clients currently must wait six to eight weeks for counseling, executive director Holly Mullen told the committee.
"We're working our best to cut that down but all your support would be greatly appreciated," Mullen said.
Gordon and Searle also asked the committee to consider a bill that would provide protection for victims who are in dating relationships whether there has been just one date or several. At present, sexual assault victims may only request a stalking injunction if there have been at least two incidents; they are eligible for a protective order only if they live together or have a child in common.
Rape facts and figures
One in three Utah women will experience some form of sexual violence in her lifetime.
Rape is the only violent crime in Utah that exceeds the national average.
80 percent of reported rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.
64 percent of reported rapes are planned.
In Utah, the oldest victim was a 94-year-old woman. The youngest was a 3-day-old baby boy.
Carbon, Uintah, Salt Lake, Tooele and Weber counties have more reported rapes than the state average.
Only one-third of victims received counseling after being sexually assaulted.
Just one in 10 victims reported the assault to police.
Of reported rapes, half end up being prosecuted.
Source: Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice; Utah Department of Public Safety