SALT LAKE CITY — Heather Smith Wolsey had tears in her eyes as she thanked Salt Lake County leaders Tuesday.
"You don't know it yet," she said, choking back tears, "but you've done a great thing."
Wolsey told of how she lived in fear of her abusive ex-husband, how she "would scream so loud and he would hit so hard," and yet she felt alone, wondering why none of her neighbors ever called police for help.
"It took me almost losing my life to get out of the relationship," she said, only to be "harassed and stalked" once she did. At times, Wolsey felt the "system had failed" her, she said.
But Tuesday, joining Salt Lake County Council members and Beaver County Commissioner Mark Whitney, who also serves as the Utah Association of Counties president, Wolsey celebrated the expected passage of a resolution declaring "freedom from domestic violence a fundamental human right."
The resolution also calls on state and local governments to "bear a responsibility to continue securing this human right on behalf of their citizens."
To Wolsey, the resolution was more than a signed piece of paper; it was another county committing to increase public education of domestic violence and seek ways to protect and save victims from future abuse.
Salt Lake County Council members Jenny Wilson and Aimee Winder Newton both proposed the resolution to their colleagues Tuesday, spurred by what Wilson called a "particularly bad month."
In June, nine Utahns died in domestic violence homicide-suicides.
- June 6: Police reported that Jeremy Patterson, 32, opened fire in the middle of a Sandy neighborhood and fatally shot Memorez Rackley and her 6-year-old son, Jase. Her 11-year-old son and an 8-year-old girl were also shot but survived. Patterson then shot and killed himself.
- June 17: Tom Nickells, 76, called the Beaver County Sheriff's Office and said he had shot and killed his wife, Sandra Nickells, 73, because she was suffering health issues. When officers arrived at the Adamsville home, they found both husband and wife dead.
- June 22: Police found Richelle Horsley, 47, dead with numerous gunshot wounds sitting in the driver's seat of a car in Taylorsville. Horsley's partner, 49-year-old Fransiska Dastrup, was also found dead nearby from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police say the women had been in a relationship but had recently separated.
- June 28: Police said Andrew Jed Larsen, 33, shot and killed Jill Lloyd, 36, while she was driving in West Jordan. Later that day, police found Larsen dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Tooele County. Police say Larsen and Lloyd had dated and had a child together. According to court records, the two had been involved in a custody battle for more than 10 years.
"This is a problem in our community," Newton said. "My heart breaks every time I hear one of these stories about an instance of domestic violence. But we also know that far too often we don't hear about it because not everyone reports."
Salt Lake County's "first and most important duty" is to protect its residents, she said, and domestic violence is an all-too-common threat to safety.
"There are women and men out there who live in constant fear," Newton said. "And the system sometimes fails them. … We need to do a better job of figuring out what is broken in our system and then work to fix the issue. Educating the public is the first step."
Later Tuesday, the County Council voted unanimously to support the resolution — drafted with help of Whitney, who spearheaded a similar resolution in Beaver and Utah counties.
Whitney said he'll work "relentlessly" until similar resolutions are passed in all 29 Utah counties.
"Domestic violence is everywhere," he said. "There is no county, no city, nothing that is immune from it."
Telling a story of a woman who called 911 but then asked police to leave after receiving only a glance from her partner, Wilson said she believes enhanced police training may be able to save lives by helping officers pick up on the most "subtle" warning signs.
Jennifer Campbell of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition said better domestic violence prevention starts by "listening to the survivors."
Domestic violence is everywhere. There is no county, no city, nothing that is immune from it.
–Mark Whitney, Beaver County Commissioner
"We need to be supportive, and most importantly, we need to provide resources," Campbell said. "We do not have enough resources in the state to meet the needs of those that are experiencing violence, so we need to come together and find ways to better provide those services."
Free and confidential help and support for victims and survivors of domestic violence is available 24/7 at 800-897-LINK (5465). For more information, visit udvc.org.
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