PROVO — Concerns for community safety following two violent sexual assaults close to the Provo River Trail was the focus of a candlelight vigil along the trail Saturday evening that attracted about 100 people.
Kat Phillpotts, one of the organizers of Take Back the Night, said the fact Provo is a safe community tends to push problems like sexual assault into the shadows. "If you don't know there's a need, how do you know what to do about it?" she asked.
For 21-year-old Kelsey Hannon, awareness includes changing the dialogue about assaults she believes often shift to "victim blaming."
"Instead of saying 'Oh she shouldn't have been running alone,' well, maybe 'He shouldn't have raped her' would be a more appropriate comment," she said. "No harm is meant, but it doesn't help the victim."
She said she was jogging on the trail 18 months ago to the day when she was assaulted at gunpoint and raped at three in the afternoon. She became an activist and started writing about her experience on a blog after learning from three other young women she met at church that they were also victims of some kind of sexual assault.
On Feb. 6, a woman jogging on the trail at about 9 p.m. was raped at knifepoint. In June 2010, a woman who was near the trail was raped and brutally beaten with a rock. Her attacker, Shawn Leonard, is now serving a life sentence in prison. Hannon said there has never been an arrest in her assault.
Phillpotts said Provo, as a community, is full of service-minded people willing to be involved if they are aware. "We just want people to get out and be active in a positive way," Phillpotts said. "There is an element out there people need to be aware of."
Provo Mayor John R. Curtis and his wife, Sue, were at the vigil to show their support.
"This really is an important issue," the mayor said. He said Provo is generally a safe community, the the assaults are something the city is taking seriously.
"We have a citizens bike patrol. We have a police bike patrol. We have cleaned a lot of underbrush away from the trail and are working to get more lights," he said. "We have 100 police officers in Provo. The chief has asked each of them to spend 10 minutes on the trail every day."
Sara Vranes, another of the event's organizers, said she was pleased by the turnout, publicized on Facebook and the group's blog, and that the group expects to plan additional events, including fund-raising activities that can help victim-support organizations. "There are a lot of people that are excited about helping. They just need to know how and where."