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Incidents of domestic violence are up 700 percent in southern Utah in the past five years and now comprise one of every four assault cases investigated by the Washington County sheriff's office.

"I'm sinking; I'm drowning," said Rickell James-Irish, Washington County's domestic violence program director.James-Irish said the Utah Division of Family Services has been slow to increase her budget. And with domestic violence and sex crimes being among the most under-reported of all crimes, she fears the problem is more serious than the community may think.

St. George police Lt. Kerry Larson said domestic violence in St. George jumped from 16 reports in 1990 to 113 during 1994. Larson said rapidly increasing population coupled with new legislation accounts for the increase.

The increase brings other problems. James-Irish said the state is running out of places to put the victims.

Until the Discovery Opportunity Via Escape (DOVE) house is completed sometime next year, James-Irish said she's had to come up with creative ways to find housing for abuse victims.

"We have a safe house, but that`s just not enough," she said. "We have contracts with a couple of motels here in town, but that's on a first-come, first-served basis."

She also said there is a problem with the time women and children can be sheltered.

"There's a 30-day limit that they can stay, and sometimes that's just not enough time for them to pick themselves up and get their lives back together," she said. "Plus it's so hard for them to find affordable housing when there's only one person bringing in a paycheck."

Brenda Butler, with the St. George Housing Authority, said she is out of housing certificates for needy families.

"We have a finite number of housing certificates we can give out. We just don't have any more to give," she said.

Besides having a shortage of housing certificates, Butler said some complexes are changing their lease programs, which is making it more difficult for families to find housing.

"We're having to move 20 families out of one apartment complex because they're changing their renting system," she said. "Luckily, we've been able to find housing for all of them except two families."