USU UWLP Publishes Research Summaries on Perceptions of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Harassment

By Susan Madsen & Melinda Colton | February 1, 2024


Man and woman

Researchers from the Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) conducted a statewide study to establish a baseline of public perceptions of the awareness, understanding, and attitudes regarding the challenges of Utah women and girls. The survey, conducted in the fall of 2023, focused on five areas: education, community engagement, safety and security, health and well-being, and the workplace.

The 80-question survey was based on existing literature and survey instruments, guidance from experts, and baseline data needed by leaders of A Bolder Way Forward, a new initiative inviting  Utahns to break down the barriers that keep women and girls from thriving. Additional research summaries will be published in the coming months to provide Utah leaders and residents with insights into Utahns’ current perceptions.

The UWLP collected data from October 24 to November 30, 2023, and 3,505 Utahns ages 18 and older participated. Research summaries were recently published on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Sexual Harassment and Gender-Based Discrimination. The reports are authored by Susan R. Madsen, founding director of the UWLP, and are being used to set goals and metrics for “A Bolder Way Forward.”

Domestic Violence – One in three Utah women will experience some form of contact sexual violence, physical violence, and stalking by an intimate partner in her lifetime.

Survey results included:

  • Only 25.6% firmly agreed domestic violence is a problem in Utah.
  • 62.4% of Utahns’ agreed that emotional abuse is just as serious as physical abuse.
  • About one-third of Utahns were either neutral or disagreed that they know where to find domestic violence resources and support in their communities.
  • About half of the respondents agreed that they know how to take concrete steps to help address domestic violence in their community.

“Through the decades, Utahns’ challenges with domestic violence have not been discussed openly,” said Madsen. “Yet, hundreds of people around the state have tirelessly helped survivors and their children, though many seeking shelter have been turned away because of limited resources and capacity. These concerns have surfaced more publicly in the past few years, particularly with recent, highly visible tragedies. However, this study found a persistent lack of awareness of the problems, resources, and solutions.”

Sexual Assault – Sexual assault is a significant issue, with one in three Utah women experiencing sexual assault in their lifetime and one in six Utah women experiencing rape. Utah is ranked 9th out of 50 states for the number of rapes per capita.

Survey results indicated:

  • Many Utahns are aware that sexual assault is a disturbing trend in Utah.
  • 85% of respondents agreed that any unwanted sexual contact or behavior is sexual assault.
  • 19.7% felt they could do nothing to help change sexual assault in their communities, while another 21.3% were unsure. Most at least somewhat agreed that they could help.
  • While 60% of participants agreed at some level that they knew where to find sexual assault resources in their communities, only 15.3% strongly agreed.

“In the past few years, awareness of this significant societal problem has risen, but the work has just begun,” said Madsen. “This study found that there is still a serious lack of awareness regarding the problem, resources, and solutions. To keep more Utah women and girls safe, awareness building and prevention must catapult forward.”

Sexual Harassment and Gender-Based Discrimination – It is difficult to track current trends and measure progress regarding sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination. Four survey items in the study provided insight to help guide changes to improve women’s experiences in the Utah workplace and beyond.

Findings include:

  • 83.5% of respondents agreed that sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination are problems in Utah.
  • 82.3% disagreed that people make a bigger deal out of these two issues than is warranted.
  • The findings suggest many are uncertain of what to do if they experience or see others experience sexual harassment and other types of gender-based discrimination.
  • Most survey participants do not trust that organizations in Utah would appropriately handle a sexual harassment report. In fact, only 11.1% either agreed or strongly agreed that this was the case. 

“To me, one of the most troubling findings from this study is that Utah employees, particularly women, do not trust that organizations in the state will appropriately handle a sexual harassment situation if it is reported,” said Madsen. “Trust is essential if Utah women are going to feel safe, and feeling safe is a critical component of thriving.”