SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 1 of every 5 Utah women have been victims of intimate partner violence, according to newly released results from a phone questionnaire of about 10,000 Utahns.
In addition to 18.1 percent of women, 10 percent of Utah men reported having been subjected to violence by their significant other, according to the 2016 data collected by the state using what is called a Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System questionnaire. The Utah Department of Health released its findings Tuesday.
Fourteen percent of all respondents combined said they had suffered intimate partner violence.
But of those who have been victimized, slightly less than 15 percent of respondents said they sought outside help, said Deanna Ferrell, a violence and injury epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health.
Ferrell said that particular finding is "a call for us to get the word out there about the resources that are available" for victims.
The most common reasons people listed for not looking for outside help included: believing that the abuse wouldn't continue; worrying their significant other would find out the behavior had been reported; dreading they could lose custody of their children; fearing negative financial repercussions; and not wanting to be helped in the first place.
Ferrell said victims of partner violence also fear being stigmatized.
"They're scared to reach out and get help, so it's more likely to keep occurring," she told the Deseret News. "There aren't those social norms to talk about it and seek help when you are experiencing those things."
Demographic groups more likely than average to report having experienced intimate partner violence included those ages 35 to 49 (18.3 percent); those who live in households earning $25,000 or less per year (21.7 percent); those who have ever been divorced (34.2 percent); those who have ever separated from their spouse (44.3 percent); those who were unemployed (27.3 percent); those who are bisexual (32.6 percent); and those or who have a disability (24.5 percent).
Among respondents who were victims, 26.1 percent of those ages 18 to 34 reported they had experienced intimate partner violence specifically in the past year, while just 10.1 percent of those ages 35 to 49 and 3.9 percent of those 50 and older reported the same.
Ferrell said the data is "a tool for us to focus our prevention efforts" and presents "an opportunity to work with those who are at higher risk and get them resources that they need."
"So for us that means … making sure that safety houses are accessible in areas that are low income," she said, citing one example.
Still, as with any survey asking about intimate partner violence, there is a legitimate possibility of respondents underreporting it, Ferrell said.
She noted that national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published last year indicated around 3 in 10 Americans report having been the victim of intimate partner violence. However, that figure also includes psychological and sexual forms of violence, while the state's results do not, she said.
The Utah survey only sought respondents who were at least 18 years old.
Respondents were asked whether they had ever been subjected to a "push, hit, slap, kick, (or) choke" by their significant other, or whether that person had ever "physically hurt you in any other way." They were asked beforehand if they were in a safe place to answer the question.
The survey results depict a strong correlation between whether a person had experienced a traumatic childhood and whether they had ever suffered intimate partner violence, Ferrell said.
She said among those who reported being subjected to violence by their significant other, 49.8 percent of them reported enduring at least four of what are known as "adverse childhood experiences."
By contrast, just 13.3 percent of victims had no such experiences, which were defined in the survey as growing up with physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, having intimate partner violence in their home, drug abuse occurring where they lived, having an incarcerated member of their household, or "liv(ing) with anyone who was depressed, mentally ill or suicidal."
The correlation between childhood adversity and victimization in adulthood is far from surprising, said Dr. Bill Cosgrove, a pediatrician who is past president of the Utah chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and still speaks on behalf of that organization at the Utah Legislature.
"If you are, as a child, traumatized, you start to see the world as a dangerous, traumatic place and therefore everything that happens to you … as another threat," Cosgrove told the Deseret News. "They see everything as a threat, so real threats don't stand out."
Another reason a person with a traumatic childhood is at greater risk, he said, is that "they feel less loved as children, so they are constantly looking for affection as adults, so they tend to put themselves in more dangerous positions."
Cosgrove, who also serves on the Salt Lake County Board of Health, added that "one of the worst things that can happen to a child is witnessing violence in the family, even if they're not the victim."
Victims of intimate partner violence were more likely to report certain negative health indicators, with 13.3 percent saying they smoked every day compared to just 3.9 percent of nonvictims saying they did the same. Additionally, 19.7 percent of victims said they engaged in binge drinking, compared to just 10.9 percent of nonvictims.8 comments on this story
Intimate partner violence "was also correlated with … missing more days of work, difficulty doing errands alone, and difficulty concentrating or remembering," the Department of Health said in a release.
Ferrell said that for each negative health factor correlated with intimate partner violence victimization, it's impossible "to say which one came first," but hypothesized that "sometimes these may be coping mechanisms."
Anyone who is a victim of intimate partner violence or other forms of domestic or family violence, or knows someone who is, can call the Utah Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465), which operates 24 hours per day.