Domestic violence calls increase in 2015
Domestic violence is a crime that knows no real socio-economic boundaries and Summit County’s citizens are not immune to it, according to Summit County Lt. Nick Wilkinson.
Last week, deputies responded to five domestic violence calls and arrested one man for domestic violence criminal mischief. The week before, deputies responded to five incidents, including two cases of domestic violence in the presence of a child, and arrested five suspects, including one woman.
"I would say that we respond to those (domestic violence calls) on a pretty routine basis and I think we are seeing an increase," Wilkinson said.
Summit County Sheriff’s deputies responded to 78 domestic violence reports in 2015, compared with 58 and 47 in 2014 and 2013, respectively, representing a 34 percent increase from last year. However, Wilkinson said he could not tell, based on those numbers, if more cases are occurring or if more victims are seeking help and reporting the incidents because of public awareness.
"I think we have a lot more education and information going out into the community where people are calling to report it more often," Wilkinson said. "We are seeing an increase, however, it’s nothing astronomical. I wouldn’t call 78 cases, based on our population, an alarming rate of increase. We have had our fair share of domestic violence-related incidents, but I don’t think they are as violent as you might see along the Wasatch Front.
"But we are concerned because one person getting victimized is more than enough for us," Wilkinson said.
He added, calls listed as domestic violence-related incidents could include a variety of crimes, such as harassment, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, damage to a communication device, violating a protective order, assault, kidnapping, rape and homicide.
Wilkinson said when domestic violence situations are reported people often think it is limited to physical abuse.
"We get more that fall into that nexus and, historically, they have grouped more and more crimes under domestic violence," Wilkinson said.
Increase in calls not felt by local outreach service
Jessica Gray, program director at Peace House, said the services the organization provides has remained steady, despite an increase in reports to the Sheriff’s Office. Peace House is a nonprofit organization that aims to end family violence in Summit and Wasatch counties through providing shelter, programs and case management to victims while they recover from abusive relationships.
"Often the police are seeing people that we never hear from," Gray said.
In 2015, the Peace House’s 24-hour crisis helpline documented 566 calls and served 240 adults and 62 children in various programs, Gray said. Nearly 4,000 hours were spent with clients and 93 victims utilized the shelter.
"I would say the one of the main problems with our community response is the difficulty in connecting to those people who don’t know or understand what their situation is," Gray said. "I don’t know why we are not hearing from those people. We are doing what we can to get our name out there."
Gray said Peace House serves more victims from Park City and the Snyderville Basin than from the eastern part of the county.
"I think it just has to do with breaking down stereotypes," Gray said.
Domestic violence is a difficult topic to address and often people don’t know what to do or say, Gray said.
"I think we have all been there and before I became a specialist I would have been in the same place," Gray said. "I remember being in college and working in a restaurant when one of the other servers said a man just stood up and reached across the table and smacked his girlfriend. We were all shocked and yet none of us did anything. I think most people feel that way, of wanting to do something and not knowing what.
"One thing we can do is talk to people, friends, family or acquaintances, to help them come up with a plan about how to address their abuse because that can be the hardest part," Gray said.
Gray said Peace House will continue to work with local law enforcement agencies in 2016 to reach victims and prevent abuse, including implementing a lethality assessment tool for officers in March.
"It is a new partnership with Peace House and Park City and Summit County and it is really exciting," Gray said. "When officers go out on the domestic calls they are going to implement a new assessment tool. It has been implemented in 23 other states and four areas in Utah, this will be the fifth area to get this going."
Gray said officers will assess the situation and the victim’s risk of being killed to immediately connect them with the Peace House while still on scene.
"That one introduction over the phone could make all the difference in the world," Gray said.
Peace House and Valley Behavior Health offers several therapy programs for Summit and Wasatch counties’ residents who may be experiencing abuse. To contact someone at Peace House, call 435-658-4739 or use the 24-hour helpline at 800-647-9161. For more information about the services Valley Behavioral Health offers call 435-649-8347 or visit http://www.valleycares.com/.
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