A few weeks ago, this newspaper published a sobering story about how researchers at LDS Hospital had pulled the covers back on a dark secret in Utah: Domestic violence is alive and thriving here, as it is nationwide.
The researchers gave confidential questionnaires to 500 consecutive women who came to the hospital's emergency room in March 2001. Nearly 10 percent of them, regardless of the reason they currently were in the hospital, said they were the victims of abuse from their intimate partners during the previous year. Nearly 40 percent of those women said they had considered suicide during that year, as well.
Utah ranks 16th in the nation in domestic homicides. Of the women murdered here each year, about 65 percent die from domestic violence, experts say. In addition, domestic violence is often a factor leading to other diseases, and it is the No. 1 reason why women are injured. And most likely it is underreported.
We were so concerned by these figures that we decided to make the cessation of domestic abuse one of our editorial goals for 2004. The other goal, a carry-over from last year, is to continue to promote civility, both in political debates and in all aspects of life in Utah.
The Deseret Morning News editorial board has a proud tradition of sharing its goals for the coming year on each New Year's Day. While we intend to comment on literally hundreds of issues as they come up during 2004, these goals will direct our concerted efforts and receive special attention.
We are convinced that almost everyone in the state has had a brush with domestic violence, through an acquaintance, a co-worker, a friend at church or some other means. Unfortunately, this is a crime that still is often treated as a private matter, rather than as the public menace it is.
President Bush declared last October to be National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In doing so, he said, "A home, a family should be a place of support, should be a peaceful place not a place of cruelty and brutality. Domestic violence betrays the most basic duties of life. It violates the law. It's wrong. It is a crime that must be confronted by individuals, by communities and by government."
That three-pronged approach, through individuals, communities and government, is the only way to tackle the problem effectively. Laws can do only so much. With the proper public support, shelters can provide safe havens, but only if victims are aware of them, and only if they have the courage to seek help. Much of the burden of recognizing and solving this problem rests on friends and neighbors who see the results of abuse and need to break their silence. But all three elements must work together.
Incivility, it could be argued, is a companion to domestic abuse. Naturally, an abusive partner is not being civil. But incivility goes much deeper into the fabric of a society. When people post rude or vulgar bumper stickers on their vehicles, they are being uncivil. When they act badly in public or try to make a point by profaning the sacred or otherwise provoking people to anger, they are being uncivil. And when people approach political discussions by attacking, defaming and castigating without addressing issues or respecting differing views, they are being uncivil.
Civil people lift everyone through their manners and their attitudes. They respect differing views and celebrate differences in culture and thought, even as they express their own well-considered opinions with passion. A civil society is a civilized society. Unfortunately, there is much around us, from popular television shows to the way people interact on the street, to indicate that incivility is gaining an upper hand.
As we did last year, we intend to be a catalyst in restoring civility. We will spotlight both the good and the bad. This is an election year, which makes this goal all the more important.
Rest assured, we do not intend to abandon any of the issues we have held up as goals in years past. Faithful readers of these pages will no doubt wonder whether we still support a broadening of education choice in the state's public school system. We do. The issue of tuition tax credits seems to be gaining momentum as the Legislature prepares to meet, and we intend to be part of the debate. We also plan to continue our emphasis on ending the plague of drunken driving. Much progress has been made since we first took on this goal, and we don't plan to give up now.
And, of course, there are many other issues affecting Utahns. We will continue to speak out on all matters of concern throughout 2004, but we intend to keep domestic abuse and civility in the forefront of public debate.