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Need for funding tops list as Utah tackles domestic violence

SHARE Need for funding tops list as Utah tackles domestic violence

The red flag has been waved: Utah has a domestic violence problem.

A new state poll, reported in Monday's Deseret News, which questioned 1,000 women statewide for the Governor's Commission for Women and Families, revealed that eight in 10 women say domestic abuse is a serious problem in their communities.Now armed with statistics and percentages, officials say it's time to make an effort to solve the devastation of family violence.

But how?

It may start with dollars, 1.5 million of them to improve and expand domestic violence services.

State Attorney General Jan Graham said she's developing "think tanks" of experts and others in the trenches of domestic violence to brainstorm solutions. She hopes it leads to a statewide strategic plan, which includes government and school programs that identify children who live in violent homes.

Graham said solutions need to focus on children.

There will be public awareness campaigns, and the state may hold a summit on accountability to make sure all those who work with victims know their role, said Diane Stuart, the state domestic violence coordinator.

The Governor's Commission for Women and Families will present the study to the state Domestic Violence Advisory Council on Tuesday. The state's 23 local domestic advisory coalitions will also be given the information and asked to find new solutions to family abuse on the local level.

What's most important, Stuart says, is not burying our heads in the sand.

Because there are certain barriers and behaviors that lead to violence, Stuart said officials need to use the information in the study to stop domestic violence before it happens.

"We know abuse goes in one direction - it escalates," Stuart said.

The federally funded study was completed in July and released Monday after Attorney General Jan Graham sent a scathing memo to Gov. Mike Leavitt.

She criticized the Leavitt administration for delaying the release of the study and its "desperately" needed data, which could help get funding and support for the "crisis."

"As leaders, we need to do more than chirp about the inherent goodness of people: Morality demands that we take action," Graham said in a memo to Leavitt and his administration.

Bob Terragno, chairman of the state Domestic Violence Advisory Council, says the study will be critical in January when officials go to the 1998 Legislature for money.

The advisory council, made up of law enforcements, state family service employees, advocates, judges and others involved in domestic violence issues, will ask legislators for about $1.5 million. Every penny is needed, Terragno said.

San Juan County needs a battered women's shelter. Other shelters in the state don't have enough money for 24-hour staff. Some shelters are having to send women to hotels, which lack the security a shelter offers.

The council was disappointed in the small appropriations it was given last year and hopes the study will buoy its request this year.

One of the areas Terragno feels was overlooked in the study was children witnessing violence in their families.

A pilot project began in July at the Community Counseling Center to assess and treat child witnesses, who can be so traumatized they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Treatment for children needs to be expanded, but the Legislature will have to fund it first, Terragno said.

Other areas needing money are victim advocacy and adult treatment services. The state also needs more legal representation for women seeking protective orders, Terragno said.