An increasing number of Summit County residents are reporting domestic violence abuse and seeking shelter at the Peace House, according to Peace House Executive Director Jane Patten and the Summit County Victim Assistance Director Marsha Probst.

Two-and-a-half as many people stayed at the Peace House shelter during the first six months of 2012 than in the first six months of 2011. The number of people staying overnight during the same time has doubled.

The Peace House has also seen an increase in the number of helpline calls and participation in their outreach program.

Patten said they have two theories about what is causing that spike.

"One theory is the economy, where the small businesses and homeowners have been just hanging on," Patten explained. "Whenever there is financial stress within a household, it increases the abuse that goes on."

The other theory is that more people are becoming aware of the Peace House and are seeking help.

To meet the need, Peace House is opening offices in Kamas and Coalville.

"Our outreach program not only gets the word out into Wasatch and Summit County about domestic violence and our services, but also informs about options, resources and safety planning for families that don't necessarily need or want to go to the shelter, yet still really need help with issues of violence within the family," Patten said.

"We always felt that if people were staying in an abusive relationship, not making those changes and not moving out of their home, then we haven't really succeeded, we haven't fulfilled our mission."

Patten suggests those who are in an abusive relationship, or suspect a loved one may be, to call their hotline,1-800-647-9161, especially before the situation reaches a crisis level.

"If you are in a crisis situation we will find a way to get you to the shelter and safety, but a better way would be to make those decisions when you are not in the crisis situation," Patten said.

Those who call don't need to provide their names, where they are from or anything else that is identifying.

"But they can start the process of making the change to a life free of abuse, for the adult as well as the children," Patten said.

Because of her heavy workload and budget cuts, most of Probst's time is spent helping victims through the court system, rather than responding with law enforcement on domestic calls.

"For the most part, I've had to back off the domestics, saying, I can't do that," Probst said. "I can't be everywhere. Law enforcement is giving them the resources they need to contact me the next day."

She then works with domestic violence victims to get orders of protection, counseling, restitution and anything else they might need.

Previously, there were two victim advocates in Summit County, but one position was eliminated during budget cuts, despite crime and calls for service having doubled, Probst said.

To handle the prosecution side of her job alone, she said two full-time people would be ideal.

"It kept two of us busy and constantly running," Probst said. "And that's not including when I go out on a call. If I have to go out on a call at night, I have to be in court the next day, be here and be happy, and help the people that are down and discouraged. Plus, I'm a mom with four kids and seven grandkids."

But Probst says loves what she does and hopes that she's helping.

For those who are impacted by domestic violence, she said there is light at the end of the tunnel.

"It's tough and it's hard to go through but they have support all around. I think the resources here in Summit County can't be beat," Probst said.

During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Summit County Domestic Violence Coalition and Peace House will host a candlelight vigil on Oct. 23 to honor domestic violence survivors and those that have lost their lives to domestic violence. The time and location is to be determined. More information about the candlelight vigil will be posted on www.peacehouse.org.