Community Connections
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month…

Do you know that one in three women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime? Or that rape is the only violent crime in Utah that occurs at a higher rate than anywhere else in the United States?

Studies have shown that one in eight women and one in 50 men in Utah will be raped in their lifetimes. The rate of rape is consistently higher in Utah than anywhere else in the U.S. Additionally, 88.2 percent of rapes are never reported. That means that sexual violence is grossly underestimated in our state as well.

But what is sexual assault? While it may seem obvious, this genuinely seems to be a hard concept for some people to grasp. Sexual assault is any unwanted contact or attention that is resulting from coercion, manipulation, force or violence. Sexual assault can happen to anyone regardless of age, sex, gender or class, sexual orientation, appearance or any other “identifier.” The same goes for sexual violence. Sexual violence can take many forms, just as sexual assault can. Sexual violence includes rape, child sexual abuse, attempted rate and domestic or dating violence. Some may believe that crimes of sexual assault and/or sexual violence are based around the sex act itself. They are not. They are violent crimes that are about power and control. No one asks to be assaulted.

Prevention concerns all of us. Not just women, not just those of us who work directly with victims and survivors of sexual assault and violence, not just mothers, not just fathers. This is everyone’s problem because we are all susceptible. We all know someone who has been assaulted and, whether we are aware of that or not, the statistics prove it. Sometimes, looking at the issue from a financial standpoint helps to put the issue into perspective.

In 2011, a study was done to examine how much sexual assault costs. It cost a resident of Utah in 2011 an average of $1,700. This study also uncovered a huge disparity in funds allocated to survivors and perpetrators. It was found that the Utah State government spent more than $92 million on individuals who have perpetrated sexual assault/violence and only $16.5 million on those who have endured sexual assault/violence. Additionally, only $569,000 was spent on sexual assault prevention efforts in the state of Utah.

Costs to the victim include but are not limited to: unplanned pregnancy, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, mental health services, work loss and other victim services. Sexual assault costs the community as a whole, as well. These community costs include but are not limited to: treatment of sexual offenders, criminal justice costs and prevention costs. In one year, the government spent more than $109 million in sexual assault related spending. Largely, these funds are used to support the criminal justice system, medical costs and other victim’s services (places like Seekhaven).

These funds are gathered through taxes but also fines and penalties handed down through our court system. However, the estimated government spending in Utah on sexually violent offenders is higher than estimated government spending on victims. We can tell that a large sum of these funds go towards probationary supervision and confinement in prisons, jails, etc. Utah spent only an estimated $16.5 million on victims of sexual violence; this is only 15.1 percent of the total cost spent on sexual violence.

Most of the funds spent on victims go towards medical care and child protective services. Lastly, only a half percent of funding is put towards prevention programming.

There are direct and indirect costs of sexual violence, with $405 million are estimated as spent on direct costs of sexual violence in Utah (medical care, victim’s services, etc.). An estimated $4 billion was spent on indirect costs of sexual violence in Utah (costs of sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, substance abuse, etc.).

It may seem impersonal or dehumanizing to focus so much on the cost of sexual violence on the victims, community and U.S. society on the whole. But the extreme costs and the severe disparity in spending are not easily ignored when it comes to making strong changes in policy. When our decision makers are determining where to allocate funds and whom to provide funding to, if they could see how much we would save by putting these funds to prevention programming, as opposed to incarceration or probationary services, we would see money saved, victims served and ideally a decrease in sexual violence throughout the state.

We need to compare what we currently spend to the benefits of investing in deeper, more thorough and mandatory prevention programming. An example of what we could invest in: community programs that promote healthy relationships, specifically focusing on adolescents and young relationships.

ByBy Elaina Budris

VISTA representative at Seekhaven Family Crisis & Resource Center