Utahns should be deeply troubled that their state ranks 13th nationally in sexual assaults, as indicated by the latest available FBI statistics. Such violence against women and girls anywhere in unconscionable. It is particularly galling in a state that takes pride in family values and a relatively wholesome environment.

Obviously, predators exist here as well as anywhere else. One reason for that is Utah's large juvenile population, from which come many perpetrators of sexual assaults. The result leaves Utah ranked ahead of states such as California and New York in this sordid and sorry crime category. It indicates a critical need for bolstering this state's juvenile justice system and for being tougher on young criminals who commit sexual crimes and other serious offenses.At the same time, the state must do more to better support victims and encourage them to report attacks. In 1996, 810 adults and children reported being victimized. But experts say only one in 10 rapes are reported to police. An estimated 7,200 went unreported throughout Utah that same year.

Fortunately, more is being done to provide an infrastructure friendly toward victims - one that helps them overcome the trauma of their experiences. The state currently has rape crisis centers in Salt Lake, Provo, Ogden and Logan. By mid-May, six more will open in Cedar City, Park City, St. George, Brigham City, Richfield and Moab.

That will help more women and girls get the help they need. Another service long overdue is a new statewide, toll-free hotline for victims of rape and other types of sexual assaults. The first of its kind in the Intermountain West, it helps those in need access services, counselors and survival skills by calling 1-888-421-1100.

Calling the line puts victims in contact with trained crisis workers who can provide immediate support and who can make referrals to private or public agencies depending on needs.

The help line and the six new centers need to receive continued governmental and financial support as resources necessary to help those harmed by sexual assaults. With proper assistance and time, victims can overcome the damaging effects of lamentable violence.