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Experts say everyone needs help to escape domestic violence, even perpetrators

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 11:59 a.m. MDT

Kiirsi Hellewell, right, and Amber, Scott and Holston Hardman, all friends of missing West Valley woman Susan Powell, attend the Utah Domestic Violence Council ceremony of remembrance for all victims of domestic violence at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013.   (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Kiirsi Hellewell, right, and Amber, Scott and Holston Hardman, all friends of missing West Valley woman Susan Powell, attend the Utah Domestic Violence Council ceremony of remembrance for all victims of domestic violence at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Tonya Lemus said the day she left her husband was when she came home and found her 2-year-old son with a black eye.

Though the decision to leave was easy, actually getting out of the house proved more difficult.

"I had my son in my arms and literally had to run down the street being chased by an ice pick saying he was going to kill both of us," she recalled.

That was 25 years ago. Although Lemus said she had problems with her ex-husband stalking her after she left, she encourages all women in abusive relationships to get out — quickly.

"Leave today, not tomorrow. Tomorrow is too late," she said.

Lemus was at the state Capitol Wednesday as the Utah Domestic Violence Council released its annual report on domestic violence-related deaths in Utah. The council counts both domestic-related homicides and suicides in its statistics.

Brandy Farmer, chairwoman of Public Education Committee, speaks during the Utah Domestic Violence Council ceremony of remembrance for all victims of domestic violence at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013.   (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Brandy Farmer, chairwoman of Public Education Committee, speaks during the Utah Domestic Violence Council ceremony of remembrance for all victims of domestic violence at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

According to the figures, 29 people died in Utah during 2012 because of a domestic violence incidents. Nine of those people were cohabitants; 11 of the victims were involved in five murder-suicide cases.

There were 28 domestic violence-related deaths between July 2010 and June 2011.

Domestic violence-related homicides are the most predictable types of homicides, and therefore the most preventable, said the council's executive director, Peg Coleman.

But statistics don't tell the entire story.

"The incomprehensible grief needs to be met with an abundance of compassion and concern," she said.

The reason the Utah Domestic Violence Council puts out its annual numbers, said chairwoman Brandy Farmer, is to make the public aware that domestic violence is everyone's problem.

"It's not just the victims and the perpetrators' lives that are at stake here — it's everyone's lives. We're all affected by it," she said. "We hope that we are sending a message to the community to educate them about the resources available to prevent the violence from happening in the first place."

Peg Coleman, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Council, speaks during the Utah Domestic Violence Council ceremony of remembrance for all victims of domestic violence at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013.   (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Peg Coleman, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Council, speaks during the Utah Domestic Violence Council ceremony of remembrance for all victims of domestic violence at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

The message for victims to get out of abusive relationships and take advantage of the resources available is always there, Farmer said. But for years the question has been, "Why do these deaths occur?" and the council would like the focus to be on the question of "How do we stop it?"

Part of that process includes giving attention to the abuser. Farmer also said perpetrators need to know there is help available for them, although in most cases they don't even realize that they need help.

"There is happiness beyond what they're feeling right now. But if they can't do it by themselves, which most of them can't because its become a habit by now, then it's time to get professional help," she said. "How can we stop the violence if we don't help the abuser?

"As a survivor, I know that we have to help the abusers. Because people kept asking me why I didn't leave. I kept asking them, 'Well, why didn't he just stop?'"

Domestic violence survivor Tonya Lemus speaks during the Utah Domestic Violence Council ceremony of remembrance for all victims of domestic violence at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013.   (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Domestic violence survivor Tonya Lemus speaks during the Utah Domestic Violence Council ceremony of remembrance for all victims of domestic violence at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Most perpetrators of domestic violence believe they don't have a problem and what has happened to their victims is not their fault. That's where friends, family and educating the community can play a role, she said.

During Wednesday's ceremony, there was a special presentation for Susan, Charlie and Braden Powell. Though the Utah Domestic Violence Council no longer prints the names of victims in its annual report, they did take take a few moments to honor the missing West Valley City woman and her two children who were killed in a high profile incident of domestic violence last year in Graham, Wash.

"Susan's Song," written by Camilyn Morrison and Jessie Funk, was performed while a slideshow of Charlie, Braden and Susan was shown on a screen. Several in the audience were in tears by the time the song was over.

A moment of silence was held for all the victims of domestic violence before the ceremony finished.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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