Where are Utah's gaps in addressing domestic and sexual violence?

Christa Lynn Luckenbach plants a flag during a purple flag planting event at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Oct. 17, 2020. Domestic violence advocates met at the State Capitol on Tuesday to call for more funding and resources amid the increased need.

Christa Lynn Luckenbach plants a flag during a purple flag planting event at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Oct. 17, 2020. Domestic violence advocates met at the State Capitol on Tuesday to call for more funding and resources amid the increased need. (Yukai Peng, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah domestic violence victim advocates called for additional funding and pushed for legislative involvement as their need for resources continues to escalate amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, in partnership with other service providers and agencies, held a meeting with advocates and legislators Tuesday during its annual Capitol Hill Day. Advocates identified gaps in resources outlined in a statewide needs assessment, discussed priority policy issues, and explained the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

Domestic violence incidents rose 8.1% nationally during the onset of stay-at-home orders and lockdowns, a Council on Criminal Justice report revealed. The national trend was reflected statewide with local law enforcement agencies and shelters reporting an increase in calls and incidents.

An increase in need and decrease in funding have created a significant strain on service providers and a difficulty in meeting those needs.

On a single day in 2020, domestic violence programs statewide served 1,205 victims of domestic violence and received 359 hotline calls, but 309 people's needs went unmet due to a lack of resources. In the same year, 2,191 requests for shelter went unmet due to COVID-19 constraints and lack of resources.

"At any time, it's challenging to provide services when demand so far outstrips resources. But with the past two years, it has been extraordinary domestic violence service providers who were tasked with keeping our residents and staff safe," said Liz Owens, CEO of YWCA Utah. "COVID precautions and health, social and economic uncertainty put a considerable strain on our ability to deliver services."

To address the growing need for services, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition has listed additional funding as a tier-one priority in this legislative session. The request for funding was listed as a high priority by the Social Services Committee and includes "an increase of $4.24 million in stable, reliable state general funds for core operations of the 15 nonprofit, licensed domestic violence shelter-based service providers in Utah."

Additionally, the funding will support the 24-hour crisis support phone line and new referral hotline hosted by Restoring Ancestral Winds.

Other priority bills outlined by the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition include:

  • HB117 — The address confidentiality program allows victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual violence to use the program's address as their legal address. The change helps victims protect their location from abusers. Utah is one of three states currently without the program, according to Erin Jemison of Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.
  • HB175 — The amendments in this bill would add animal harm and suffering to the definition of "emotional distress" and allow the court to include injuring or threatening to injure certain household animals as prohibited when issuing protective orders.
  • HB208 — This bill creates a state-level board that establishes standards for current, research-based treatment modalities and a process for holding clinicians accountable to those standards.
  • HB288 — Domestic violence victims can apply for crime victim reparations funds to reimburse for medical costs related to strangulation, even if they do not cooperate with law enforcement.

"We need the continued and consistent support of community members, including our legislative body, to help partner with us and champion this work. We know there's a hunger to learn more and to do more collectively. We hope to help facilitate and foster greater understanding of the issues facing all survivors (of domestic violence) in Utah with an increased focus on the survivors from marginalized communities," Owens said.

But what does that increased focus look like?

A statewide needs assessment conducted by the Gender-Based Violence Consortium revealed areas and groups of people that required additional support and focus. The assessment included surveys with 293 individuals and focus groups, with 50% of those identifying themselves as survivors of domestic violence.

The survey identified misconceptions that Utahns hold regarding domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual violence. Of those surveyed, 42.5% said that domestic violence does not happen often; 46.5% said that human trafficking never occurs; and 40.1% said that sexual violence does not occur often.

Research indicated that 18% of Utah women reported experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime; 1 in 6 women experience rape in their lifetime; and there are 64 reported cases of human trafficking in Utah. The rates of each category are significantly higher in marginalized groups and present a gap in services, according to the assessment.

The gaps in the system identified by the assessment include:

  • Crisis line support is insufficient
  • Housing support is insufficient
  • Medical resources are insufficient
  • Barriers and difficulty reporting abuse to law enforcement
  • Insufficient legal resources for victims

To fill those gaps the statewide assessment recommends:

  • Increasing state resources for services in response to marginalized communities
  • Systematic data collection
  • Resource trauma-informed and culturally informed practices
  • Resourcing flexible funds
  • Centralized information sharing
  • Paying language advocates who are trauma-informed, trained in domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking

"The need for funding to secure and stabilize our core trauma-informed critical services like emergency shelter, crisis lines and walk-in services, housing, victim advocacy, case management and children's services has reached a critical point," Owens said. "Our work is critical life-saving work, it's necessary work, and it's work that can change the trajectory of families and generations and communities."

Domestic violence prevention resources

Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:

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Ashley Fredde covers human services and and women's issues for KSL.com. She also enjoys reporting on arts, culture and entertainment news. She's a graduate of the University of Arizona.


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