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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Alisha Gowen, domestic violence advocate director for Uintah County, explains some of the issues people in the area are dealing with due to the decline of the oil industry in the Uinta Basin on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016.

The advocate: Alisha Gowen, Uinta basin native, is the director of domestic violence advocacy program for Uintah County.

VERNAL — Alisha Gowen's eyes look tired, and she admits she is exhausted.

Much of that is due to the whirlwind of the past year or so, the time she's spent helping women and men who have been slapped, punched, hit or kicked in a relationship careening out of control.

Gowen heads up the domestic violence advocacy program in Uintah County, which has seen a 105 percent increase in cases in a year's time involving couples where both are unemployed. For couples where only one is working, the cases have shot up 62 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Her office staffing didn't change: Gowen, her assistant and four volunteers.

"I go to the gym a lot," she said, turning to exercise to work off her stress.

With crude oil prices down by 75 percent since June of 2014, the dramatic plunge has been accompanied by industry bankruptcies, a global layoff of more than a quarter million employees, and cities and towns across America filling up with vacant storefronts.

The financial upheaval goes beyond corporate bottom lines and shuttered businesses. It is felt in homes where families are forced to deal with abrupt loss of household income, the reality of trying to sell a home in a market where no one wants to buy and unpaid bills. It comes with the loss of identity and professional confidence when your career no longer wants you.

"A lot of people come in feeling absolutely overwhelmed," she said.

Gowen's office provides counseling, tries to provide a valve from which to relieve the pressure and connects victims to resources that may provide a light to the darkness suffocating their relationship.

It's hard, she admits.

"You see all these families who have no way to pay their bills, they're getting foreclosed on and their stress goes through the roof."

Some of the oil field workers or those in ancillary businesses have found jobs — but the work could be in Oklahoma or Texas, North Dakota or Alaska.

"There is a lot of single pseudo-parenting going on, and that has its own stress," as fathers leave for another state and the mother suddenly becomes a 'single' mom and head of household.

Alcohol is a key culprit in the assault cases. People may not be able to afford their house payment, but they reason the price of a six-pack will help wash away their desperation.

"When you have an entire community with the loss of hope that they're going to find a job, it's hard."

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