SALT LAKE CITY — Domestic violence ends in death 40 to 50 times a year in Utah. In the past decade, 42 percent of all murders were committed by an intimate partner.
Crisis workers in the state took 40,000 telephone calls for help last year, all of them fielded by 13 community-based programs in the state's 29 counties affiliated with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.
"It's a lot of hard work," said Jenn Oxborrow, coalition executive director.
Those thinly stretched programs are asking the Legislature for $1.4 million each year to "help them keep the lights on and the doors open," she said.
The coalition's lethality assessment program found an "exceptionally" high number of people at risk of being killed by a domestic partner. "But our programs haven’t had any dedicated funding or expansion, so they’re struggling to keep up with the need," Oxborrow said.
Coalition members gathered with legislators at the Capitol on Tuesday to highlight the need for funding, as well as discuss several domestic violence related bills under consideration this session.
"I think we have done a lot of hard work on the ground to help people to understand how they can really make a difference and help save lives," Oxborrow said.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said, "Now that we know better, it's time to do better."
Ivory has a bill that would form a committee of victims, advocates and state agencies to look at how to better listen to victims.
"When victims suffer in silence, it hurts everyone," he said.
"Victims of trauma are in situations where they are losing everything," Ivory said. "Their world is collapsing around them, and we have a criminal justice system, whether it's the courts, the prosecutors, the police, well-intentioned, but if you don't speak trauma, you can't hear anything."
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, is proposing what being called the "911 bill." Though it doesn't specifically target domestic violence, it obligates people who witness an assault of any kind to call the emergency line.
"We think it's an appropriate thing in light of so many circumstances and situations that you see where you have individuals acting so badly and inflicting serious bodily harm and injury," King said.
Oxborrow said people are often hesitant to report domestic or sexual violence because they have historically been private, complicated issues. But King's bill, she said, sets an expectation for people who witness violence.
"People think of calling 911 as calling the police, but calling 911 is really to protect safety," she said.
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, have legislation to strengthen laws on protective orders, stalking injunctions and pretrial release of alleged perpetrators.
Weiler's bill expands the ability to obtain a protective order to those who have or had a relationship with a suspect but never lived together and narrows the definition of a family member. Other revisions include requiring police to provide victims with easy-to-understand written information about resources, such as shelters, and seeking a stalking injunction.
Romero's measure provides clear guidelines for prosecutors and law enforcement regarding the pretrial process. It also offers additional protections to survivors of domestic violence to limit the interaction of the aggressor with the victim and his or her family.
"A lot of times people don't speak out, so by talking about these bills, by talking about this issue, we're hoping that more people will leave situations that might not be safe for them," Romero said.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, has a bill that would allow victims to switch off shared cellphone accounts by requesting a court order.Comment on this story
Victims say it’s necessary for privacy during these sometimes life-threatening situations. When a plan is shared, abusers can get access to call logs, texts, even GPS locations.
A bill Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, makes it a class A misdemeanor to violate a dating violence protective order. It also calls for a penalty enhancement for third-degree felony domestic violence offence committed within five years of a previous offense. Also, defendants under court-ordered electronic monitoring could required to pay for the service, according to the bill.