SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time in over four years, Erin Van Berkel had a single day where the thought of her rapist didn’t cross her mind.

"It was the first time I had experienced that peace in the four-plus years since my rape. That gives me hope that I have more days in my future, during which I don't think of him. The more time that passes, the less control he has over me," Van Berkel said Monday during a press conference about Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

"And that's due to the help that I've received and continue to receive by coming forward."

As she told her story, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Sonya Martinez of the Rape Recovery Center stood behind her. Van Berkel had worked with the Rape Recovery Center, the district attorney's office and other law enforcement throughout the process of her report and the trial that followed.

It all began in a hospital room, when a nurse asked Van Berkel if she could contact police after she had relayed what had happened to her.

"It seems obvious had anyone else told me the same story, I would have said that it was absolutely rape. But because it was me, I doubted myself," Van Berkel said.

Law enforcement arrived, as well as a victim's advocate from the Rape Recovery Center, who handed Van Berkel a bag of comfort items.

"I wore those sweatpants for weeks, I would take them off every few days to wash and they were back on as soon as they came out of the laundry. I joked that they were made of armor because they just made me feel safe. Now they're just in my regular rotation of sweats and pajamas," said Van Berkel.

"I'm amazed by the progress I've made. I was so scared in the beginning that first night, and the first few weeks after I was scared to face my rapist in court and have to deal with him, but it was really important to me. I testified in open court and I looked right at him while I testified and I think that made me so much stronger to be able to do that," she continued.

Unfortunately, Van Berkel's experience of being sexually assaulted is not uncommon for women across the United States and in Utah. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center statistics reveal 1 in 2 women have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime and 1 in 5 women have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lives.

In Utah, of those rapes, nearly 9 out of 10 will not be reported, said Gill.

"This is a national crisis. This is a local crisis. This is a crisis that we all have a responsibility and we have to use our voices to prevent sexual assault. To do that, we need to believe survivors, challenge victim-blaming and respect boundaries. And for us as institutions, law enforcement and prosecution we have our own work to do," he said.

Since January of 2023, there have been 276 rape charges filed in the entire state; 104 of those rape charges were filed in Salt Lake County, according to the district attorney's office statistics. In addition, statewide, there have been 416 forcible sex abuse charges filed, with 143 of those charges being filed in Salt Lake County. In the last year, there were approximately 3,200 sexual assault charges filed statewide, with some 1,200 of those in Salt Lake County.

"If there's 3,000 cases that were reported, it boggles the mind of those who have undergone this violence and fail to report it. And let's pause for a second there. What kind of a society and culture are we creating where survivors do not feel safe? To be able to come forward and share that trauma? And that's our collective responsibility that we all have," Gill said.

If out of 100 cases, only 12 people report it, approximately six people will drop out of the process. Of the six cases that remain out of the 100, the district attorney's office will file on approximately four, he explained.

“While the harm is real, the trauma is real, the pain is real. Our system, which is premised on evidence, and premised on our procedural issues, is not always conducive to finding that measure of justice that we’re trying to seek. And I acknowledge that because that’s our systemic challenge that we have,” said Gill. “We also understand a win and loss is not a judgment on the experience of a survivor. That beyond the courtroom, there has to be a commitment to your success in your healing journey that is critical.”

While there are systemic barriers, officials encourage survivors and the community to continue to come forward.

"The first thing that we ask folks is to start by believing. The second thing we asked folks to do is to hear the survivor out and have them lead out in the process. It is very challenging as a person on the other side to not want to control or really encourage the survivor to go a particular direction in their healing journey. The most important thing you can do is be there with them, help them find the resources, help them navigate the systems," said Sonya Martinez, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center.

“For the rest of the community, we all hold a responsibility in ending sexual violence and what that looks like. It’s starting by having conversations in the carpool at the kitchen table with our friends and family so that we can create a culture that no longer tolerates sexual violence,” Martinez said.