It seems weeks or only days go by before another case of domestic violence breaks into news coverage, often with anguishing details and a tragic result. Police believe the mass shooting at a Texas church was precipitated by incidents of domestic abuse. The same weekend, a Utah man was arrested and accused of murdering his two elderly parents. Such cases rightfully prompt a public reckoning of a community’s ability to detect and respond to domestic violence, which hopefully can lead to more reporting of incidents by victims and more subsequent prevention and action by police and others.
After several high-profile incidents made headlines last summer, authorities are reporting an increase in the number of cases involving people violating protective orders by stalking their victims. That may also translate into more protective orders being filed, though there are no current statistics. Police and prosecutors do believe, however, that while citizens may be more tuned to options if they find themselves victims of domestic threats, law enforcement agencies have also increased their efforts to better address the problem.
One thing that has proven effective and is apparently being used more often is what is called the Lethality Assessment Protocol — a set of questions police use to determine what level of threat an individual may be under. If they find evidence of high risk, they can help the victim seek shelter and begin the process of filing a protective order. If police are using the protocol more often, and if more agencies are adopting it, that could explain the uptick in cases involving stalking complaints.
There are other measures authorities can take to further bolster defense against domestic threats. One effort we strongly support is a change in the law that would expand the definition of the relationships between two people in order to make it easier for a prospective victim to obtain a protective order. A weakness in current law was exposed in the case of Memorez Rackley, who was shot to death along with one of her children in June by a man with whom she had a relationship and who had begun stalking her after she broke it off. Because the two never cohabited, theirs wouldn’t qualify under current law as a domestic relationship. There are efforts to have the Legislature address the matter in the coming session, possibly expanding the statutory definition of an “intimate partner” in order to allow more potential victims to take advantage of options to better protect themselves.
One of the most important components of fighting domestic abuse is public awareness, and sadly, it may have been several extreme cases in recent months that have brought added attention to this pernicious problem. The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition estimates that one in three women in Utah have been victims of domestic abuse. Domestic violence accounts for nearly a third of all murders in Utah. Every year, approximately 80 children witness the murder or attempted murder of their mother.
Too many incidents go unreported. We hope the recent increases in stalking reports is an indication that high-profile cases in which a life was taken are resulting in action that in turn can save lives.