(Salt Lake City, UT) – A new report from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) shows that those who identify as a sexual minority, are from a low-income household, or do not have a college degree are at increased risk for sexual violence.
Data indicates that in 2016, 45.5 percent of Utahns who report being bisexual and 33.6 percent of Utahns who report being lesbian or gay experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives compared to only 8.7 percent of Utahns who report being straight.
“Our findings indicate that sexual minorities and other vulnerable populations appear to be at significantly increased risk for sexual violence,” said Megan Waters, spokesperson for the UDOH. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sexual violence is defined as sexual activity that involves victims who do not consent, or who are unable to consent.
“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.
Sexual violence is often linked to stressful or traumatic childhood experiences known as adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s). ACE’s include sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, domestic violence in the home, substance misuse in the home, having someone living in the home with a mental illness, parental separation or divorce, or having an incarcerated household member. As a child’s ACE’s increase so does their risk of experiencing or perpetrating sexual violence later in life. The UDOH data showed that among adults who have ever experienced sexual violence, 56.4 percent reported four or more ACE’s, compared with 14.3 percent of adults who have never experienced sexual violence. In addition, only 5.4 percent of adults who have ever experienced sexual violence reported that they never experienced an ACE.
“We know people who experience trauma during childhood are more likely to experience sexual violence. This gives us good indication that prevention efforts need to begin early on – before sexual violence occurs – and address families and environments, in addition to the individual,” said Waters.
Experiencing sexual violence can have a negative effect on one’s health and behaviors later in life. For example, Utahns who experienced sexual violence reported a higher prevalence of seven or more days of poor mental health in the past month (38.6% vs. 14.9%), seven or more days of poor physical health in the past month (22.7% vs. 13.2%), being an every day smoker (9.4% vs. 4.9%), and binge drinking (18.2% vs. 11.6%) compared to Utahns who had not experience sexual violence.
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.
Other findings from the UDOH report showed:
- Sexual violence affected 16.4 percent of Utah adult females and 3.1 percent of Utah adult males in Utah in 2016.
- Nearly one in 10 Utah adults (9.7%) reported that someone had sex, or attempted to have sex with them without their consent.
- Adults who are divorced, separated, or unemployed have higher rates of sexual violence.
- Utahns who experienced sexual violence had more difficulty doing errands alone (12.5% vs. 3.3%) and concentrating or remembering (19.4% vs. 7.9%) than those who did not experience sexual violence.
- In 2011, the direct and indirect costs resulting from sexual violence totaled nearly $5 billion, almost $1,700 per Utah resident.
“We welcome the crucial data provided by the UDOH. Without their critical research and information gathering, our work would be significantly hampered. The results speak to the need for robust culturally-specific prevention programming. Utah communities are counting on us to ensure that everyone is included in prevention efforts,” said Turner.
The UDOH focuses on the primary prevention of sexual violence. Primary prevention emphasizes activities that take place before sexual violence has occurred and works to create social change and shift the norms regarding sexual violence. Primary prevention reduces the risks while increasing the factors in people’s lives that prevent against sexual violence. For more information about sexual violence prevention in Utah, visit www.health.utah.gov/vipp.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, help is available by calling the Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 1-888-421-1100 or the Domestic Violence Link Line at 1-800-897-LINK (5465).