Panelists dispel myths about sexual assault

By Deborah Rafferty, Staff Writer

To address sexual violence, people need to be willing to talk about it, said Alana Kindness, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

“We are not going to know the full picture until we get more people becoming comfortable speaking about it,” she said. Kindness spoke Thursday at a Hinckley Institute of Politics forum on sexual violence prevention, part of the dialogue series on human rights and equity.

Very few cases of rape and sexual assault are reported, panelists said. Only one in 10 women in Utah will report occurrences of rape, but one in six women will be raped in her lifetime. Victims of sexual violence might feel afraid that they will be ostracized from their community if they report a rape. Victims might also feel uncomfortable speaking about what happened or not realize that what happened was sexual assault.

The panel discussed the importance of making victims of sexual assault more comfortable about speaking and reporting what happened to them. Program centers such as UCASA and the Rape Recovery Center work with victims of rape and sexual violence to help them report the assault and cooperate with detectives and other officials on their cases.

Panelists also spoke about breaking down the myths of rape and sexual assault. The main myth associated with rape and sexual violence is that strangers are the main perpetrators of rape and sexual assault, said Heather Stringfellow, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center.

Studies have shown that very few victims of rape and sexual assault did not know the perpetrator, the panelists said. It is far more common for offenders to establish a relationship with their victims because it is easier to manipulate the victim into believing it was not sexual assault.

“A lot of what is happening is socialized behavior,” said Moises Próspero, research director of the Utah Criminal Justice Center who also spoke at the forum. “What you are taught when dating is actually, how can I rape this woman and get away with it?”

Próspero said society has led many people to believe they need to coerce their victim into doing what they want them to do, and the more they resist, the harder they need to work to get them to agree. Próspero works to resocialize men’s and boys’ beliefs of what is acceptable interaction with the opposite sex. He mentors boys and provides them with information to help them realize how they treat women and show how to police themselves so they stay away from negative situations.

The panel also discussed how the myths about who will become a victim of rape and sexual assault gives society a false sense of security. “Stranger danger” is becoming a thing of the past. Just because someone avoids certain situations does not mean they cannot be a victim of rape and sexual assault, Stringfellow said.

“People get into their comfort zones with people and let their guard down,” said Alex Johnson, a sophomore in English who attended the forum. “You need to always take care and be aware of what is happening.”

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Richard Payson

Heather Stringfellow, Executive Director Rape Recovery Center, Nubia Pea, Prevention Education Specialist, Moises Prspero, Ph.D., Research Director, Utah Criminal Justice Center, and Kristy Bartley, Ph.D. Counseling Coordinator, University of Utah talk around the subject of rape, rape prevention and rape awareness during Thursday’s Hickley Forum.