SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 1 in 10 Utahns have been a victim of rape or attempted rape, including about 1 in 6 women, according to the results of a Utah Department of Health questionnaire released Thursday.
Using what is called a Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System poll, the state randomly surveyed about 10,000 adult Utahns by phone in 2016 and found that 9.7 percent of them "reported that someone had sex, or attempted to have sex with them without their consent," department officials said in a release.
Of those surveyed, 16.4 percent of women said that had happened to them, while 3.1 percent of men said the same.
Deanna Ferrell, a violence and injury epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health, said 2016 was "our first time in Utah even asking men this question," which she called a "huge step forward."
Any numbers regarding sexual violence are always subject to underreporting due to respondents' hesitance to open up about the topic, Ferrell said. She added it is likely that any underreporting would be more pronounced with men's responses.
Questions about sexual violence have "been asked different ways in different years, so we don't have state trend data" showing how the prevalence of rape has changed over the years in Utah, Ferrell said.
Additionally, 33.6 percent of lesbian or gay respondents reported having been the victims of rape or attempted rape, as did 45.5 percent of those who are bisexual, compared to 8.7 percent who are straight.
“This data reinforces what sexual violence prevention and response professionals will tell you. Sexual violence is rooted in the inequities of our society and disproportionately hurts those who have been pushed to the margins,” said Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, in a statement released with the Department of Health data.
Other respondents who were disproportionately likely to report having been victimized were divorcees (18.7 percent), the unemployed (21.3 percent) and those in a household earning $25,000 or less per year (14.9 percent).
Bitton added that "the results speak to the need for robust, culturally specific prevention programming."
Megan Waters, a Department of Health spokeswoman who specializes in interpersonal violence prevention, agreed, saying the survey "gives us really good information about where our efforts should be focused."
"(It) really speaks to the greater need in some communities over others, so when we're designing prevention (efforts) … we might really be able to understand communities that need that most," she said.
Adverse childhood experiences — including molestation, physical abuse or living in a home where domestic violence or drug abuse was present — were also tied to rape risk, according to the new data. The Department of Health said that of adults who reported having been victimized, 56.4 percent had lived through at least four adverse childhood experiences.
Of those who had never been victimized, just 14.3 percent had suffered at least four adverse childhood experiences, according to the department. Just 5.4 percent of respondents who were victims had never encountered an adverse childhood experience.
"It really speaks volumes about how our efforts need to move (prevention) upstream to younger and younger ages," Waters said. "Are we teaching consent from young ages and are we teaching bodily autonomy so that kids know their body is their own?"
Waters added that it's important to be "teaching parents to instill these consent concepts with their kids … giving the child that sort of autonomy to make their own decisions and having them be in control of their own body."
Ferrell said the data surrounding adverse childhood experiences was not unexpected.
"Unfortunately, one of the risk factors for future victimization is past victimization," she said.
Victims were also more than 2 1/2 times as likely to report having experienced at least seven days of poor mental health in the previous month than others who took the survey, 38.6 percent to 14.9 percent.
"Sexual violence is also linked to physical consequences, such as chronic pain, cervical cancer and migraines; psychological consequences, such as shock, anxiety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder; and to social consequences, such as strained relationships with family, friends and intimate partners," the Department of Health said in a release.
Additionally, the survey found that more victims reported having difficulty "concentrating or remembering" compared to others — 19.4 percent to 7.9 percent. Victims were also more likely than others to report having "difficulty doing errands alone," 12.5 percent to 3.3 percent.
Tinesha Zandamela, a senior at BYU and vice chairwoman of the Emerging Leaders Council of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault who has experienced different forms of sexual violence "multiple times over the course of my life," said the connection between victimization and poor memory and concentration is unsurprising.
"I think that quite frequently, for many people, when they think about sexual violence they don't think about the after-effects," Zandamela said. "There are significant long-term effects that can affect things we may not think of, such as concentration."
She added, "the survivors I know, many of them have PTSD — I have PTSD (and) depression, and those things are the result of sexual violence."Comment on this story
Good data on the prevalence of rape and other forms of sexual violence is important to understanding the true magnitude of the problem, Zandamela said. Specifically, knowing that many others have gone through similar experiences can be helpful to victims who feel isolated.
"What I try to do now is help people know that they are not alone," Zandamela said.
"Sexual violence does happen in Utah and it does affect someone (you) might know."
Anyone who has encountered sexual violence, or knows someone who has, can find help by calling the Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 1-888-421-1100.