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1 in 3 women experience domestic violence in Utah, study says


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SALT LAKE CITY — It's an alarming number.

More than 1 in 3 Utah women will experience rape, physical violence or be stalked by an intimate partner in their lifetime according to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Victims need to know they can get out and that there is help available to make sure it happens safely.

Heather Wolsey has been trapped in a cycle of violence at the hands of her ex-husband.

"I didn't know how to get my kids out. I didn't know how to get myself out," Wolsey said.

Today, Wolsey considers herself a survivor. "I'm going to give my family the life they deserve," Wolsey vows.

Wolsey is speaking out about what she calls an abusive marriage and has collected court records and police reports that detail disturbing incidents: "I always knew I'd get out, I just didn't know how," she said.

At Utah's Domestic Violence Coalition Executive Director Jenn Oxborrow said, "We are overwhelmed."

In 2015, the coalition provided 100,000 nights of emergency shelter and answered over 43,000 crisis calls.

"We still know that we're not meeting all of the need," Oxborrow said.

In fact, the coalition gets no state funding to address the growing problem.

"I think, in general, people in Utah are unaware and even resistant to the reality of the prevalence of domestic violence in our families and communities," Oxborrow said.

To get the message out, the coalition has launched a new billboard campaign.

"We were hoping that a public awareness campaign would help our communities understand how serious this is and help them to push for change," Oxborrow said.

"There's a certain dignity that we want to retain about people who go through this," said Dallas Graham, the artist behind the billboard campaign.

Three models participated in the project. One is the victim, but you have to think before realizing it's the woman with the purple painted hand over her mouth and around her throat. Strangulation is a marker of violence that can be lethal. Victim's advocates worry that Utah does not have a felony strangulation law.


Even the models who participated in the project say they learned a lot about domestic violence.

"I found out that there is someone close, you know that I know who has actually been going through this," said model Stephanie Mortensen.

Anyone can watch for the signs of domestic violence. Ask yourself if someone close to you is isolating themselves. Has their behavior changed? Is there an imbalance of power in their relationship?

"If they (a friend or family member) come to you and they tell you that this is going on in their relationship, start by believing," Oxborrow said.

For victims, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition's website offers detailed safety plans from how to stay safe in your home to how to tell your employer what's going on to how to prepare to leave. And, there's an interactive map with phone numbers for crisis shelters across Utah.

"No one is going to stop me," Wolsey said.

The mother of six stays full of hope, despite a battle with the Utah justice system to keep her ex-husband behind bars for stalking and violating a protective order.

After 20 years of marriage, Wolsey got out, got her first job and is getting on with her new life.

"There is hope. I am the American dream. There is hope," Wolsey said.

The UDVC has a free and confidential help and support line available 24/7 at 1-800-897-LINK (5465) for victims or anyone who believes they know a victim.


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