- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Students at Brigham Young University reported fewer on-campus sexual assaults than many other major Western universities over the past decade __ a finding that victims’ and others say could indicate a problem of under-reporting by people who are attacked.

The Mormon-owned school reported an average of about 1.5 sexual assaults for every 10,000 students a year from 2004 through 2014, the most recent data available, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data by The Associated Press.

All but one of the universities in the Pac-12 conference reported a higher annual average, with many reporting more than twice the number at BYU, the analysis shows. The data only includes sexual assaults on campuses.

Victims’ advocates at BYU have complained about the Utah school’s handling of sexual assaults.

The low number likely indicate that students aren’t reporting all sexual assaults, not that schools have successfully curbed assaults, said Alana Kindness, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

BYU reported four years with zero on-campus rapes - in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2011. The University of Utah didn’t report any such years in that period and zero-incident reports occurred only four times in that decade among Pac-12 schools.

Such reporting at BYU is a major red flag when about 25 percent of female undergraduates nationwide have consistently reported each year that they were sexually assaulted, said Kristen Houser, spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

“It’s unfathomable to me that there’s any one-, two- or three-mile area in the country where there’s zero sexual assaults happening, and particularly not among an age group that has the highest risk,” Houser said.

All but three schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference reported higher annual averages than the Utah school, with many saying more than three times as many assaults occurred.

BYU has recently come under scrutiny for allowing its honor code office to investigate accusers, a policy that some say could further discourage reporting of sexual violence.

BYU has already launched a review of the investigative practice. School spokesman Todd Hollingshead said the school strongly encourages students to report sexual assaults.

The culture in the predominantly Mormon state, where more than half of the 3 million residents belong to the religion that forbids premarital sexual activity and prohibits alcohol use, likely plays a factor in two different ways.

It could indicate that alcohol-fueled parties that could lead to rape are less frequent in the state, said Shima Baughman, a criminal law professor at the University of Utah who has worked on rape cases.

It could also mean that victims are reticent to report sexual crimes out of fear of being judged or disciplined, Houser said.

Colleen Payne Dietz, 33, said she was raped when she was a freshman at BYU when she was 18. She said she didn’t initially understand that it had been rape, so she didn’t report it to the police.

“I had never been naked with a man before, no one had ever taken my clothes off,” she said.

The Associated Press doesn’t normally identify people who say they are victims of sex crimes, but Dietz said she wants her name to be used so she can share her story with other survivors.

The University of Utah is not under the same scrutiny by victims’ advocates as BYU, but a former student recently filed a federal complaint after she said the University of Utah mishandled her sexual assault report. The school said it is constantly reviewing procedures for investigating sexual assaults.

Lori McDonald, University of Utah’s dean of students, said she knows from research and individual incidents that there have been more sexual assaults on campus than reported.

The reporting rates at Utah’s two most well-known schools have increased in the three-year stretch covered by the recent federal study, mirroring the increase at other major Western universities.

McDonald attributes that increase to the university’s work over the past few years to spread awareness among students.

“It’s harder for us to intervene, it’s harder for us to prevent if we’re not getting a better sense of what’s happening,” she said.

- AP writer Brady McCombs contributed to this report.

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Follow Hallie Golden on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HallieGolden4 .

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This story has been corrected to show the University of Utah has not launched a policy review but constantly reviews its polices on reporting sexual assaults.

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