“Rape is the only violent crime in Utah that occurs at a higher rate than the rest of the nation,” according to health.utah.gov. One in three women will experience some form of sexual assault in Utah, and one in eight will be raped. Our rape rate is 63.7 per 100,000 women, compared to a national average of 57.4 per 100,000 women. Health.utah.gov estimates over 88% of incidents go unreported. These are depressing numbers, and that doesn’t take into account children and men. Sexual assault happens to all ages and all genders in all walks of life.
What can we do? We can’t hide in our homes and never go on a date or never take a new job. It would be ineffective to refuse to go to college where there have been on-campus sexual assaults. Frankly, there isn’t a college, state or area with a clean slate. We need to stop assuming safety comes from location and start taking steps to protect each other. Here is a common assault story:
Person A goes to a bar, alone or with friends. While there, Person B spots Person A and walks over to start a conversation. What seems harmless at first ends badly in a variety of ways. Person B isolates Person A from their friends and maneuvers them outside. Person B buys Person A a drink, drugs it and then offers to help the intoxicated Person A home or to a cab. Either that, or Person B follows Person A when they try to hide in the bathroom. It can be hard as a friend or a passerby to tell whether Person A is actually into Person B or even if Person A is just uncomfortable. The worst part is that many people are uncomfortable telling others off. No one wants to be branded as rude, ungrateful or mean, and it can be hard to know when something is really bad until it’s really, really bad. Often, survivors know their aggressors and don’t want to risk alienating other friends or ending up alone, so they allow themselves to be coerced into situations they would have otherwise avoided. We need a way to go out and have fun but still be able to alert others when we are distressed or facing unwanted attention. We need confidence in our safety without compromising our security.
This conundrum has not gone unnoticed. Bras with cell phone alerts, discreet kits that can test for drugs, secret codes and even innocuous weapons have all been established, but how effective are these solutions? Probably, one of the most effective sexual assault prevention systems is Intrepid. Intrepid is a sensor that sticks to the inside of a bra. If the bra is removed in an atypical way from the wearer’s normal pattern it sends an alert to the owner’s phone. The owner then has 30 seconds to type in a code before an alarm goes off and their location is shared with five preset people. While women are often targeted, however, sexual assault does not just happen to women. This device also fails to account for instances where the woman might remove her own bra or where the encounter turns aggressive only once she is undressed. Intrepid is also not widely available.
Drug testing kits are readily available on sites like Amazon. If you are savvy enough to find a convenient time to slip a test stripe in your drink you can successfully know whether or not it contains ingredients common to date rape drugs. There was a rumor of nail polish with testing capabilities circling a few years back, but there is no definitive proof the product works, and again, I would just run if I had the inclination to test in the first place. This brings us to a new question — how to run.
It may sound silly that anyone would find it difficult to walk away from a situation where they felt unsafe, but it is extremely common. This is where secret codes come in. Angel shots are pricking ears in bars around the world. Basically, bars have put up signs in the women’s restroom with a specific shot which will alert the bartender they need help. In theory, the shots are different at different bars to prevent aggressors from recognizing the code, but depending on the education level of your unwanted companion, you could order an “angel shot,” in those words, with the same effect. Unfortunately, this trend is not widespread in the United States. University of Utah Alum Makayla Cussen has worked as a bartender in New York for just over a year now without making an angel shot.
“I’ve heard of them, but it has never come up in my experience,” Cussen said. Although she “had a sexual harassment training” when she started, her bar does not have an angel shot system in place. Instead, “the bar I currently work at has bouncers at night, so they are more of the ‘preventative’ force as far as things like that go,” she said. Many bars rely on bouncers to spot potential problems and intervene, but there are often only a few bouncers up against a packed bar of people.
The real truth is that none of these solutions are going to work because they aren’t trying to change the frequency and normalcy of sexual assault. Shots, stickers and drug tests mean the potential victim has to fend for themselves instead of questioning what we have done to make these occurrences so commonplace. The sheer number of incidents is a kind of cultural acceptance. Every single person knows a survivor. Ask around — it’s often more than one. If the statistic numbers were deaths or rates of people whose entire livelihood was stolen overnight, wouldn’t we treat them far more aggressively?