Some trends improve, but domestic violence still a scourge

OGDEN — Jodie Smith, 26, says the feeling she’ll get when she signs her first year-long apartment lease next month will be life affirming.That’s because she and her 2-year-old son have been homeless. For her, problems of drug addiction and homelessness have come in and out of her life for the last decade.

Smith said just when she thought her life was turning around — she and her boyfriend had an apartment, a baby and $ 5,000 saved — her boyfriend broke her nose and spent all their money on drugs.

“I felt lost,” she said, after telling even more details of her story. Eventually police took Smith to Your Community Connection for shelter and an opportunity to get on her feet.

And in three and a half weeks, Smith said, she was on her own again but with a plan and resources to turn her life around.

“I feel like I’m doing really good,” she said Friday. “I can go back to school.”

Just in time for October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities, officials at YCC have announced plans to expand the shelter’s current 30-person capacity, citing the unfortunate current necessity of turning dozens away from services each year.

But at the same time, Ogden police have reported a decrease in the number of domestic violence-related cases. Some have pointed to increased education and possible under-reporting of domestic violence as the reason for the decrease.

A $ 1.5 million YCC capital campaign is designed to fund a remodeling effort that will allow the shelter to offer more services to more people, including more beds for women and children and a wing for men.

Many aren’t aware that the shelter already offers the same services to men as it does to women, officials said. Currently, abused men who require housing are put up in a nearby hotel, officials said.

This week, a man who asked not to be identified by name said he can now stay in his own home in safety thanks to help from the YCC.

Drugs also were at the heart of his problems.

The man said his wife began using drugs in the presence of their children and he took action to keep that from happening.

That’s when the now ex-wife began to be abusive, requiring him to get a restraining order to protect from danger himself and his children, who are 13 and 9.Since that time, the center has helped the man receive counseling to help him and his family cope with the many facets of addressing the mother’s continued efforts to control him and their children.

Tallie Veteri, YCC Domestic Violence Victim Assistance Center manager, said many people do not realize that men can be abused in the same ways as women can.“It’s not about standing up to anybody or putting them in their place,” Veteri said, noting how society teaches people to react differently when they see men abused. “It’s about calling (abuse) what it is.”

She said society has a double standard for men.

“If we see a man treated that same way, we don’t even think of it as abuse.”

But YCC officials say educating people to respond and giving men and women a place to go when they find themselves in trouble is at the heart of breaking the cycle of abuse.

“That’s why we do the classes,” said Julee Smith, executive director of the YCC. “That’s why we go out into the schools to do prevention. … It’s about families and the future. That’s what we are all about.”

Perhaps some ground has been gained.

John Harvey, deputy director of support services for the Ogden Police Department, said in the last decade reports of domestic violence have decreased in Ogden.

And in the last year, Ogden police statistics indicate a notable decrease in domestic violence cases, he said. (See accompanying chart.)

“We have had about 13 percent fewer domestic violence cases this year compared to last year, through the 15th of September,” Harvey said in an email to the Standard-Examiner.

“We appear to be trending upwards in 2013 and downwards in 2012,” he said. “However, the total numbers are greater in 2012.”

Harvey said he asked some officers what they thought were the reasons for the declines.

“We feel a lot of it is due to the increased awareness of the issue, new laws that require arrests whenever a predominate aggressor can be determined, the requirement to attend training after a person has been released from custody on a domestic violence offense, and officers now can transport the battered spouse to a safe location if the situation requires it,” he said.

Ogden Police records are not the only statistical indicator that points to the incidence of reported domestic violence going down locally.

In a newly released report by the state, titled “Utah’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Report 2013: No More Secrets,” the number of protective orders filed in the 2nd District Court area, which covers Davis, Weber and Morgan counties, went from 872 in 2011 down to 328 in 2012.

In 1st District Court, which covers Box Elder and Cache counties, the number went from 229 to 93 in the same period.

“In calendar year 2012, the number of temporary protective orders dropped to the lowest number of orders issued in over 10 years,” said the report, citing the entire state.

The Sexual Violence Statewide Crisis and Information Line, 1-888-421-1100, reports that the number of crisis calls to that number have steadily gone down since 2006.In that year, the crisis line received 595 calls. Last year, it received 273 calls.

But there also are indicators that domestic violence may be headed to becoming more of an urgent problem throughout Utah when it comes to worst-case scenarios. Utah courts identify and track cases involving domestic violence and offenders that repeat domestic violence and are subject to enhanced charges.

“Calendar year 2012 saw the largest increase (15 percent) in domestic violence-flagged cases in over a decade,” said Utah’s Domestic and Sexual Violence report.

The report documented 29 deaths related to domestic violence in Utah last year. Of those, six were from Weber and Davis counties. The percentage of all homicides In Utah that are related to domestic violence also has gone up in the last decade, said the report.

In 2011, the last year for which data was available, 53.5 percent of Utah homicides were related to domestic violence, said the report. The lowest percentages for domestic violence-related homicides reported were in 2000, when 32.5 percent were related to domestic violence and in 2007, 31.9 percent.

The number of rapes reported to law enforcement in Utah in 2012 was the highest in a decade, said the report. In 2003, Utahns reported 843 rapes, the lowest number on the report. Last year, they reported 971.

But Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross said any knowledge about the current prevalence of domestic violence in local areas is difficult to glean from any studies or reports.

“The numbers probably aren’t the best indicator of what is happening because it’s an under-reported crime,” Ross said.

“When you have these type of cases, they are underreported,” he said. “It’s hard to know what drives the cases from year to year.”In addition to being the police chief for Bountiful, Ross also is on the board of directors for the Safe Harbor Crisis Center in Bountiful.

“When I go to our shelter, it’s full almost all the time, to capacity. There is definitely a need,” Ross said.

“In the last five years, with the economic downturn, all those things add to higher levels of domestic violence and abuse. I do believe there is plenty of evidence still that says we’ve got a long ways to go. … I do believe the numbers are significantly higher.”

Ross said people likely don’t want to go to police as a first response to domestic violence issues because of not wanting to see their spouse or significant other dealt with by police.

“They don’t want people to get into trouble. They just want it to stop,” said Julie Stephenson, who is the director of the Safe Harbor shelter in Bountiful, which also has turned dozens away in the last year.

She said domestic violence abuse victims often worry about what will happen if they get the police involved.

Among those worries are having their spouse or significant partner lose his or her job, what they neighbors or their religious communities will think.

“Not every woman that experiences domestic violence will call police,” said Penny Evans, director of the New Hope Crisis Center in Brigham City. “It’s kind of a personal, private time.”

Evans said this past summer was particularly busy in addressing domestic violence issues.

She said all the shelters in Utah all have been under stress trying to meet the demand for their services.

Peg Colman, director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said she was encouraged by the fact that police were indicating fewer numbers of domestic violence calls at the same time that shelters throughout Utah are reporting more need than they can meet.

“This often means people are accessing services before it hits that lethal level,” Coleman said.

“The more we do outreach, it’s like a bell curve. Instead of going down, it goes up,” she said of people turning for help.

“We want people to access services before it becomes a serious problem.”

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