While high numbers for obesity, smoking and air particulates get a lot of hype for bad news in Tooele County, the county also scores high in another bad news topic: rape.
The county is in the top five counties in Utah for reported rapes per capita. According to data from the Utah Uniform Crime Reports from 2010 and 2011, Tooele County had a rape rate of 92.7 per 100,000 females, significantly higher than the state average of 70.3.
Salt Lake County edged Tooele County out for the highest spot with a rate of 93.1, with Grand County coming in behind Tooele County with a rate of 90.1.
Carbon, with a rate of 88.7, and Uintah, with a rate of 83.4, rounded out the five counties with the highest number of reported rapes.
Those numbers include all reported incidents where a victim was forced to have sex against his or her will, as well as incidents where a perpetrator attempted to have sex with someone against the victim’s will.
Cases of statutory rape — consensual sex that is illegal because one of the parties is a minor — and other sexual offenses were not included, according to the data.
Although more reported rapes could be good news — if it means fewer incidents of unreported rape — it’s more likely the numbers are consistent with the typical rate of reporting. That rate is only about 10 percent get reported, said Lynn Smith, domestic violence advocate with the Tooele City Police Department.
What makes it really bad news, added Smith, is that although the numbers aren’t broken down by whether or not the victim knew his or her attacker, most are cases of date rape — and the lion’s share of those cases involve girls between the ages of 14 to 18.
“We see more date rapes with teenagers than we do with adults,” said Smith. “I’ve seen maybe a half dozen date rapes with adults, but I’ve seen far more than that with teen date rapes. [Rapes of teenage victims] are a high, high percentage of our rape cases.”
According to statewide statistics, teen girls between the ages of 14 to 18 are four times more likely to be raped than the general population. Of those, 56 percent of teenage girls who are raped are raped by a date, while 30 percent are raped by a friend and 11 percent are raped by a boyfriend.
An estimated 78 percent of Utah teenage girls who are raped do not tell their parents.
Smith said she believes at least a large contributor to the number of date rapes among teenage girls is a lack of education to combat immense peer pressure.
“A lot of times the victims, when we talk to them, they don’t want the sexual activity — it’s unwanted activity — but they can’t say ‘no’ for whatever reason,” said Smith.
She stressed, “They’re afraid to say ‘no,’ they’re afraid of whatever repercussions that might come if they say ‘no’ — especially being stigmatized or traumatized by saying ‘no’ — they’re afraid their perpetrator won’t like them anymore, because it’s all about being accepted at that age amongst their peers.”
That peer pressure can wear down even girls who initially say no, said Kaylene Young, Tooele County victim advocate.
“They get worn down by [the perpetrator] saying, ‘Please, please,’ and they say ‘no’ so many times, but they finally just say, ‘Fine, he won’t leave me alone,’” Young said.
Smith said a perpetrator not taking “no” for an answer is a hallmark of many rape cases beyond teen date rape.
“That’s across the board,” she said. “We don’t know how to solve that problem.”
A lack of education — about what constitutes rape, what someone should do if they get in a potentially dangerous situation and what someone should do if they are raped — exacerbates the problem, Smith said.
“Sex education isn’t allowed in Utah schools, but this isn’t sex education; it’s crime prevention,” she said. “[Rape] is a secret and it’s a dirty little secret. We need to make it not be a secret. People need to know what to do.”
If someone finds themselves the recipient of unwanted sexual attention, they should say “no” and be firm about it, she said. If something does happen and the person is unsure how they feel about the incident, or whether it was wrong, she said, they should talk to someone, which can help them better sort out their emotions.
Smith said if someone has been raped, but they’re not sure if they want to prosecute the case or talk to police, they should still go to an emergency room and have a rape kit done. They should not bathe, brush their teeth or change or wash clothes beforehand, to avoid losing traces of evidence.
The kits, taken by specially trained nurses, preserve the chain of evidence whether or not a case is prosecuted, said Smith, and marked simply with “Jane Doe” and a case number if the victim doesn’t want to report. Smith said the Jane Doe kits are beneficial because if a victim decides days, weeks, months or even years later they want to report the case, that evidence will have already been collected and preserved.
The anonymous evidence could also be matched to another case if someone else was raped by the same person.
Reporting incidents can also help the victim recover, Young said. While many programs and resources require reporting the incident to police, even if the victim does not want the case prosecuted, the Rape Recovery Center, located in Salt Lake, has services available to victims regardless if a police report is filed.
“[Reporting a rape] helps so you get the services available, even if they don’t want to report to law enforcement,” Young said.
Another aspect of education is removing the persistent stigma that rapes are some way the victim’s fault, she added.
“The only person who can prevent a rape is the rapist,” Young said. “There are things you can do to protect yourself, but if you’re raped, it’s not your fault.”
Smith said the stigma of being a rape victim can have devastating effects. Some teenage victims have dropped out of school or felt forced to change schools to escape teasing and bullying that accompanies the stigma. That added pressure can be overwhelming, especially for someone dealing with the traumatic effects of rape.
Bottom line, Smith said, is that the number of rapes needs to decrease, but if the number of reported rapes increases in the process of driving the number of incidents down, well, that’s part of the process.
“I’d like to see people reporting it more often because the only way to stop perpetrators is by catching them,” Smith said. “Statistically, yes, we want the rape rate down. But humanly, we want people to know they can say no and fight back.”