Utah's battle against domestic violence: How officials and advocates are making a difference

Shonie Christensen, domestic violence advocate and survivor, speaks during a press event for Domestic Violence Awareness Month at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday. Oct. 2 was declared Domestic Violence Awareness Day in Utah.

Shonie Christensen, domestic violence advocate and survivor, speaks during a press event for Domestic Violence Awareness Month at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday. Oct. 2 was declared Domestic Violence Awareness Day in Utah. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox designated Monday as Domestic Violence Awareness Day in the Beehive State.

While often assumed to mean intimate partner violence, domestic violence can also refer to violence against anyone cohabitating — meaning anyone over the age of 18 living under the same roof.

Statistics show that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in Utah will experience domestic violence, which is higher than the national average. Between 2008 and 2017, the state also saw 128 domestic violence-related homicides.

During the first six months of 2023, Utah law enforcement officers investigated more domestic violence-related deaths than they did the previous five years during the same period, according to statistics compiled by KSL.com in July.

As part of the designated awareness day, an event highlighting the need to raise awareness and support survivors of domestic violence was held Monday at the Utah State Capitol.

Shonie Christiansen, a domestic violence survivor and advocate, said, "The term domestic violence invokes images of physical abuse and death — and it should ... what is talked about less are the other forms of domestic violence: control, jealousy, child abuse, financial manipulation, elder abuse, verbal abuse, emotional torment and psychological trauma."

Christiansen shared her story of being raised in a home with various forms of domestic violence, though at the time she thought the treatment she received was normal.

"A survivor doesn't always go from one day being confident, happy and secure to being fearful, shamed and confused the next," Christiansen said, explaining that the violence is a slow process that convinces victims the treatment is normal and deserved.

Gov. Spencer Cox's 2023 declaration that Oct. 2 is Utah's Domestic Violence Awareness Day.
Gov. Spencer Cox's 2023 declaration that Oct. 2 is Utah's Domestic Violence Awareness Day. (Photo: Office of Gov. Spencer J. Cox)

Jen Campbell, director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, expressed gratitude for the ways Utah lawmakers worked to get help for victims of domestic violence in the 2023 legislative session by passing SB117 and HB43.

SB117 addresses how a law enforcement officer should report a domestic violence incident and appropriates over $1 million to the Department of Public Safety for the handling of domestic violence cases. HB43 organized a domestic violence data task force, a group of appointed individuals who will collect and analyze domestic violence statistics in the state of Utah. Campbell said both bills have helped with millions of dollars in funding for organizations seeking to educate about and put an end to domestic violence.

"I'm so grateful for all the work that has happened, but we're not done yet. We work continually throughout the year to look at what legislation needs to come forward and ways that we can help support and help end domestic violence in our state," Campbell said.

Due to legislative help, Campbell said domestic violence resource providers like CAPSA in Logan and DOVE Center in St. George have seen a 55-80% increase in survivors accessing assistance.

"That is success," Campbell said, pointing out that it also shows why programs need the support, especially as federal funding has been cut.

Campbell said the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition is launching a program called Utah Employers Against Domestic Violence, which they hope organizations can use to learn more about how to prevent domestic violence.

"To those who may be experiencing violence, please know that you're not alone ... For those who may be using violence, there is help for you as well," Campbell said. She encouraged both to call 1-800-897-LINK (1-800-897-5465), a line that connects callers to advocates who can help with resources and support.

Christiansen said it takes one safe person to "make a world of difference," and being that safe person starts with awareness of the issue and being educated on resources.

"Domestic violence is a trap that sucks you in, and if you don't have support or a healthy self-image, you deserve better. You deserve to see that you deserve better," Christiansen said.

Outside of the resources provided in this article, help can be found through the National Domestic Violence Hotline: call 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788.

Domestic violence resources

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

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Kaigan Mears Bigler is a general assignment news reporter for KSL.com.

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