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SALT LAKE CITY — One in three Utah women will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime and 40% of adult homicides in Utah since 2000 have been tied to domestic violence.
The statistics are startling and might not even fully account for the entirety of the issue, according to Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. The act of domestic violence is a widespread issue that can impact individuals, families and communities.
To begin to address the issue, systemic changes are necessary, advocates say. Here are five key bills the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition is supporting as a new session of the Utah Legislature begins in January.
The governor's budget
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has proposed a $28.4 billion budget for the 2024 fiscal year. The budget proposal has garnered a lot of excitement from advocates across many sectors, including the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, because it proposes a record $53.5 million investment into Utah victim services.
"It's really the only major investment in state funding for victim services that we've ever seen. And to have it go from basically not ever being part of what we've seen with governor's budget proposal to being $50 million is really exciting. It's long overdue," said Erin Jemison, the coalition's director of public policy.
The majority of victim service funding that the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition and other agencies have heavily relied on has been from the federal government, Jemison said. Recent cuts in federal funding have impacted programs deeply. While some of the federal funding is anticipated to resume, programs still continue to operate on cutbacks, she added.
"The timing could not be more important for state funds to try to make up some of that shortfall. But also I would say it's just important for folks to know that we are a state that guarantees victim rights in our statute in our Constitution, and yet we have largely been dependent on federal funding to then provide services that help victims make sure they have those rights and make sure that they get the support services they need," Jemison said.
"We really need to change the paradigm in the way that victim services are funded in the state and that the state of Utah really needs to start investing in these services so that we're not so dependent on federal funds," she said.
Statewide coordination of victim services
Domestic violence spans across many different communities despite age, race, ethnicity, religion or socio-economic status. The widespread impact creates responsibility by multiple agencies to administratively manage victim services.
While the range in administrators, from the Children's Justice Center to the Utah Attorney General's Office, makes sense, it can also lead to "various different kinds of cooks in the kitchen around victim services," Jemison said.
To best understand outcomes, best practices and the required level of funding needed for victim services, Utah Rep. Ken Ivory is proposing the creation of a statewide victim services coordination commission. The idea for a commission or committee was introduced in the 2022 legislative session by Ivory in HB490 and will likely be reintroduced this session.
"I think there's a real recognition that there's a lot of people working really hard and doing really good work and we need to be able to more easily paint the picture of what that looks like and what's still needed and what kind of resources are needed on that statewide level without necessarily changing the path for all the administration," Jemison said. "There needs to be a place of decision-makers to be able to come together and be more coordinated, create statewide plans."
Better data on domestic violence
Perhaps as a part of the proposed commission or as a task force, advocates are calling for better data collection regarding domestic violence in the state of Utah. HB43 will create a domestic violence data task force.
"Right now, we don't have year-to-year really reliable data gathering to say: This is how much domestic violence is happening in Utah, this is who it's happening to, these are some of the dynamics involved," said Jemison. "When we're not defining domestic violence comprehensively and therefore, counting it in all of the ways where it we know that that's what's happening, people are slipping through the cracks."
The discrepancy in data likely isn't intentional and can be difficult to track across different agencies.
"There isn't necessarily a crime called domestic violence, it's kind of parts of a lot of different crimes. It's not that anyone's trying to hide the ball. It's that there isn't kind of that consistent way of measuring it across even law enforcement agencies," Jemison explained.
Establishing a way to track data and measure it consistently between years can begin to piece together a better picture.
"I think it really has the potential to save lives because it helps us identify situations more accurately. And if we don't know what's happening, we can't then figure out what the right resources are to support people and try to prevent that violence from getting worse," she added.
Mandating Lethality Assessment Protocol
Another proposed bill would require police to use the Lethality Assessment Protocol.
The Lethality Assessment Protocol is an evidence-based screening tool that helps determine the risks of a potential homicide at the scene of domestic violence cases investigated by law enforcement. The protocol includes a series of questions to victims to determine risk.
Since the protocol's pilot in 2016, a total of 26,389 screens have been conducted and reported across Utah. The program is encouraged by advocates and many police agencies use it, but it is not mandated.
"If we're not screening every single call that even smells like domestic violence at the law enforcement level and making sure people are routed to the correct services from that call, people are going to be slipping through the cracks," Jemison said. "We've kind of reached this critical point where we're saying, 'OK, it no longer needs to be optional and yes, agencies will roll this out in different ways but it needs to be done.'"
Lease negotiation for victims of domestic violence
Currently under Utah law, a victim must have a protective order or a police report indicating they are a victim of domestic violence in order to break their lease. If the act did not occur in or near their rental unit, victims may need to indicate that the abuser knows or can find out where they live in order to break the lease.
The law requires victims to pay "the equivalent of 45 days' rent" to the landlord at the same time notice is given. The word "equivalent" is not defined.
"We've found that there's really high burden and that people just aren't able to use the law that exists," said Jemison.
The coalition has been working with the Utah Rental Housing Association to negotiate amendments to the current law.
"(We're) trying to find some kind of common ground and are there ways, because really these situations are tricky for both landlords and tenants. So how can we find some ways to help victims get to safer places, get out of leases with perpetrators, or just get to a different location and not be burdened by rent or fees that they can't afford?" Jemison said.
Domestic violence resources
Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting: