Fifty-three Utahns have been killed over the past three years in domestic disputes one death every 21 days, according to a report released Thursday by the Utah Department of Health.
The comprehensive study examines all domestic-violence homicides between 2000 and 2002 and is the first in the state to include murders committed by family members and others in domestic situations, not just current and former intimate partners.
"Domestic violence has become one of Utah's best-kept secrets," said Ned Searle, director of the governor's Office of Violence Against Women and Families. "Our public should be outraged about this violence and demand that it be stopped."
A key finding of the report is that Hispanic/Latino adults are at particular risk to become victims. This population, which makes up just 8 percent of the state's population, represents nearly 36 percent of domestic violence victims.
"Domestic violence occurs in all communities," said Gabriella Archuleta, diversity coordinator with the Utah Domestic Violence Council. "But in Utah, Hispanic and Latino victims are disproportionately affected by domestic violence."
The Latino/Hispanic population is often the most vulnerable to violence because of gaps in resources or a resistance to seeking help, particularly those in the country illegally, Archuleta said.
"One of the biggest fear factors for immigrant victims is the fear of deportation," she said. "Many victims would rather stay in an abusive situation than be separated from her children or taken out of the country."
The report also discovered that nearly a quarter of the homicides were witnessed by children. In these cases, none of the children were referred to the state Division of Child and Family Services for counseling or other services, according to the report.
Of the 53 victims, which include 16 men and 33 women, more than half died at the hands of a current or former spouse, largely by gunfire. The others were killed by family members or by police intervening in a dispute, according to the study. In one case, the victim was an innocent bystander.
At a rate of 34.3 deaths per million adults, Tooele County had the highest rate of domestic violence homicide three times the state rate of 11.2 per million, the report states.
Because each state defines domestic violence differently, it's difficult to compare Utah's homicide rate with that of other states, said Teresa Brechlin, violence prevention coordinator with the Utah Department of Health.
Still, domestic violence incidents are becoming more common and more brutal, Searle said. "We do know that it has become more intense, and we do know the abuse has become more frequent."
Brechlin agreed. "This year we're on board to see a pretty big spike."
The report was put together by the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee, which was established in 2002 to examine all domestic-violence related homicides in the state and create recommendations for reducing incidents.
Among the recommendations included in Thursday's report is strengthening public education campaigns, particularly within the Hispanic/Latino community, about available resources for victims.The state operates a 24-hour domestic violence hotline and encourages those needing help to call 1-800-897-LINK (5465).