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Weber County raising awareness of domestic violence

Utah's own Weber County has had one of the worst domestic violence records in the country, prompting a multi-year federal grant to raise awareness of the issue.

While the designation several years ago was unwelcome, Rebekah Woods Clements said the money, nearing $650,000 so far, has helped spread the word that domestic violence is not just a couple's problem but society's challenge to prevent.

In a few weeks, residents in Davis and Weber counties will see new billboards with a strong domestic violence message as part of the public awareness campaign.

Clements, with Ogden's Your Community Connection, was one of several presenters at a number of workshops at the 20th annual Conference for Women hosted Monday by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and his wife, Elaine.

Topics ranged from domestic violence and keeping children safe from Internet harm to household hints on stretching the grocery dollar.

Stressing that domestic violence goes beyond a private family matter, Clements said it is the No. 1 reason in the country women miss days at work and the No. 1 reason women visit an emergency room.

Clements said Utah, with its reputation for strong family values, is often mistakenly viewed by outsiders as a place where domestic violence rarely occurs.

"People don't think it can happen here," she said.

Yet, in one weekend in the Ogden area alone, Clements said four women were murdered by their partners. Clements said she didn't think it could get any worse until Presidents Day weekend rolled around in 2003 and six women were killed.

Clements said she checked metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and New York to see if the Weber County numbers were unusual and found, to her dismay, that they were.

"They said, 'You've got to be kidding.' Even they are not seeing what we are."

The problem is often compounded because victims and society have a stereotypical view about what constitutes domestic violence, failing to recognize it can range from patterns of emotional abuse to economic abuse.

Clements told of one woman who was "allowed" to have a checking account in her name, but her husband kept it at a zero balance. If she failed to follow the instructions on a detailed grocery list her husband would refuse to put money in the account to cover the check.

When she threatened to leave, he would remind her of her lousy credit.

In another example, a woman was locked in the bedroom with no access to food and water while her husband worked. She didn't believe she was victim, Clements said, because, in her words, "He never hit me."

Clements said national statistics show a woman is beaten every nine seconds, and 75 percent of battered women say their children have been abused as well.