New campaign to help sexual assault survivors says ‘Start by Believing’

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SALT LAKE CITY – According to data from the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, one in three women living in Utah will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and the majority of those women will never report the crime--which is something that state officials and others are trying to change.

A new campaign in Utah called, “Start By Believing” has a pretty simple message: If someone tells you they are the victim of a sexual assault or a rape, then the first thing you need to do is believe them.

“I think a lot of people don’t share their stories because they are afraid of not being believed,' said Jessica Ripley, a rape survivor.

Ripley was raped in 2012 after she left a bar in the area of 200 West and 200 South in Salt Lake City.

“I was found half-naked with my pants around my knees, being all bloody, just on the ground,” she said.

But when she reported the crime to police, Ripley said they didn’t believe her.

“It was really hard dealing with the police officer and the detective when they just kind of made it feel like, 'you were out drinking, it was probably your fault, you weren't actually raped,'” Ripley said.

Her experience is one that highlights why some rape survivors are afraid to come forward, according to Ripley.

“There has definitely been a lot of people that have disclosed to me that they are just so afraid to come forward because they’re afraid it’s going to be a hard process, that nobody is going to believe them, and it’s just not worth fighting for,” she said.

In order to change these beliefs, police departments across the state have adopted a new campaign, Start By Believing, and Gov. Gary Herbert signed a law that declared the first Wednesday in April as Start By Believing Day.

“The whole goal here is to make the victim feel comfortable to come forward,” said Chief Lee Russo of the West Valley City Police Department.

West Valley City was the first department in the state to participate in Start By Believing. They say the first person a victim confides in is often a close friend or family member, and those people need to understand the responsibility they have.

“And how that individual reacts when a victim comes forward with their story will play a large part in getting the victim to make the decision of whether or not they are going to come forward,” Russo said.

Ripley echoed that sentiment.

“Anytime someone comes to you to disclose anything, you always need to believe them, no matter what, just always that should be the first thing,” she said.

Utah one of three states in the country to officially sign legislation in support of Start By Believing.

For more information about the campaign, visit their website.