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Preventing teen sexual violence in Utah

May 01, 2017 02:30PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

Cielle Smith from Aspen Ridge Counseling Center presents information about preventing teen sexual violence in Utah. (Keyra Kristoffersen/City Journals)

By Keyra Kristoffersen | keyrak@mycityjournals.com

Rape is the only violent crime that occurs in Utah at a higher rate than the rest of the United States though it remains largely under reported, according to the Utah Department of Health. Based on statistics gathered between 2006 to 2015, which have remained mostly unchanged over those years, one in three Utah women will experience some form of sexual violence, one in eight Utah women will be raped, and one in 50 Utah men will be raped in their lifetime. Utah is ranked ninth in the nation for rapes reported, but the numbers for unreported rapes are estimated to be extremely high, especially the instances that happen among teens and on college campuses.

"We all, but teens especially, receive information about what a relationship looks like from parents, peers, and media and all too often what they see is that violence means love,” said Cielle Smith, an associate clinical mental health counselor for Aspen Ridge Counseling Center, a mental health counseling center with six locations in the Salt Lake valley and Tooele.

Smith presented information about rape and sexual violence geared especially for teens and their parents at the Sandy Library on April 14. 

Rape culture and its prevalence in society contribute to this problem among the population, according to Smith.

“When I'm talking about rape culture, I'm talking about how, as a society, we engage in this practice together and it is tolerating, normalizing and accepting sexual violence and assault, gender violence, all kinds of violence that falls under the definition of sexual assault. Trivializing sexual assault, when we say ‘Boys will be boys’, or bra-snapping, or pulling someone's pants down,” said Smith. “Tolerating sexual harassment in the workplace. Obviously, it's a problem.”

One of the biggest proponents of rape culture is victim blaming, said Smith, because it inhibits victims from wanting to come forward and report crimes due to the shame involved, from the feeling that society will blame the victim for getting hurt.

“How you were dressed, what you were drinking, what time of night it was, and none of the responsibility is placed on who it should be placed on, which is the person who perpetrated the crime,” said Smith. “That's exactly what it is, a crime. Are there any other crimes that we blame victims for? We don't blame people who are walking down the street with their wallet in their pocket and they get robbed. We don't blame them for having their wallet on them. We don't blame people who get hit by a car on the sidewalk for getting hit because it's not their fault. If your house is broken into and you've locked the doors, we don't blame homeowners for having their house broken into. But for some reason, one of the only crimes that we blame victims for is rape, sexual assault and domestic violence.”

This difficulty reporting due to shame is compounded by the fact that nationally, eight in 10 victims know their attacker, which means that the chance of reporting crimes is significantly lower.

“It's usually because the perpetrator is very crafty and good at manipulating and building a case around 'the victim is crazy'. They've already built their case before the action takes place, so they've created a support system," said one attendee, Coryn Carver. “We’re very shame based here and so the victims think it’s their fault.”

Smith urged attendees to fight against rape culture, educate themselves about what consent looks like and what it is not, and how to watch for risk factors like relationship and dating violence.

Carolyn Clyne volunteered at the Rape Recovery Center in the 1990s when she first came to Utah to get in-state experience following her degree in sociology.

"I worked there to get experience and ended up being one of the only ones who would work with LGBTQ victims of assault at the time. I was gobsmacked when I got here at the lack of basic education like anatomy in Utah,” said Clyne.

Smith also discussed the many resources available for victims and the need for more people to get involved, because of how important it is to support victims.

For more information or help, contact the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City at their 24-hour crisis and info hotline at 801-467-7273, the National Teen Dating Violence Hotline at 1-866-331-9474 or visit their website http://www.loveisrespect.org/, or contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. 

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