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Violence cases keep advocates on their toes

Officers have already investigated more than 200 domestic violence-related cases in Summit County this year, according to the Summit County Victim Assistance Program.

And the number will spike in December as tough economic times create undue holiday financial stress for families, said Cagnie Wilde, chairwoman of the Wasatch/Summit County Domestic Violence Coalition.

"The economy is going to affect how the family lives and, of course, domestic violence isn’t just physical. It’s mental and emotional as well," Wilde said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Physically, people can heal and get over it. But when you have been mentally and emotionally abused, you can’t get over it."

The Domestic Violence Coalition cooperates with law enforcement agencies to raise awareness about the problem, the 21 year old said.

Convincing victims to leave abusive relationships can be the most difficult part, said Marsha Probst, a victim advocate in Summit County.

"The majority of these people will return to their abuser seven times before finally leaving them for good," said Probst, who is 52 years old. "I can’t force that on them and I can’t pass judgment on them for doing that, because I haven’t walked in their shoes."

Sixty-four protective orders were issued in Summit County in 2007, Wilde said, adding that 47 orders were issued in Wasatch County.

Utah had 18 domestic violence-related deaths last year, she said.

"We see our fair share," Summit County Attorney David Brickey said about cases of domestic violence.

The coalition works to train officers to recognize domestic violence when they are called to a home.

"It’s one of the most dangerous calls that they can be called on," Wilde said. "You don’t know what they have in their home and you don’t know how they are going to act. So you don’t know how intense the situation is, and they have to come in and try to calm that down."

But she insists her work is not depressing.

"Once you see someone leave the situation and they become safe once again, and their children no longer see the situation, it’s not depressing because you know you helped someone, and their life is no longer in danger," Wilde said.

But the wheels of justice turn slowly, Probst said.

"We work with the victims from the times that the crimes happened and we notify them of our services and what is available from the state as far as reparations We take care of them right up until they’re with the Board of Pardons with their perpetrators," she said. "You get frustrated because the system does move slowly."

Victim advocates are an arm of the Summit County Attorney’s Office.

"The advocate is there not to necessarily advocate the state’s position, but the victim’s position, the victim’s loss," Brickey explained. "The prosecutor represents the community and society, we don’t absolutely represent the victim and there are times when we as prosecutors must make difficult decisions related to the resolution of cases and sometimes victims aren’t happy with those decisions."

Advocates attend court hearings for victims who cannot get time off work, he said.

"It gives the victim someone to talk to, to set up a meeting with us, so they have a chance to be heard, so they don’t feel like they are being victimized by the system once again," Brickey said.

But too often in Summit County victims hesitate to report abuse, Wilde said.

"You may not see as many people in higher societies report it because they feel they have to keep their social norm It doesn’t matter what a person’s income level is, it doesn’t matter how high in society they are, domestic violence is everywhere," Wilde said. "If your aggressor is notorious in the community as being a great person who can do so much, the victim in the domestic violence situation doesn’t want to report it because they don’t want to make them look bad in the town."

Information about domestic violence is available by contacting the Summit County Victim Assistance Program at 615-3851.


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