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Utahns hope to make domestic violence 'intolerable'

Researchers voice concern over rise in assaults by females

Forty life-size silhouettes representing victims of domestic violence were on display at West Valley City Hall earlier this month.
Forty life-size silhouettes representing victims of domestic violence were on display at West Valley City Hall earlier this month.
Liz Martin, Deseret Morning News

So far this month, charges have been filed in the Salt Lake City district courts in relation to a man beating his pregnant wife, a wife abusing her husband, a son assaulting his mother and roommates threatening one anothers' lives with guns.

All are considered cases of domestic violence, but all affect communities far beyond the confines of the home, advocates say. And the problem is not limited to Salt Lake City.

Additional charges have been filed against a man accused of intentionally running over his 64-year-old wife. And a Draper couple died following what police believe was a murder-suicide. In addition, a 24-year-old woman shot her ex-boyfriend, then killed herself on Oct. 4 in Salt Lake City, and a Logan woman was hospitalized Oct. 14 after her brother allegedly attacked her with kitchen knives and a garden hoe.

Earlier this year, a woman attacked her husband with a hammer while he was blindfolded, and another woman tried to run over her husband with a sport-utility vehicle. On April 6, an Ogden woman stabbed her 24-year-old boyfriend to death during a family trip to Causey Reservoir in Weber County.

Some of the alleged perpetrators have long criminal records, while others haven't been found guilty of even a minor traffic offense.

Experts believe most of the people who attack their adult family members are men — about 85 percent — but also believe that crimes against men are underreported.

University of Utah scientist and social worker Moises Prospero says the issue of women acting as domestic violence perpetrators has thrown a curve-ball to advocates in the past five or 10 years.

There is no question that women are now acting violently at greater rates than they used to, but lead researchers are debating whether the women are defending themselves or picking the fights, Prospero said.

As yet, there is no consensus, but researchers are beginning to learn that women perpetrate psychological abuse at least as often as men do and are more likely to use weapons when committing acts of physical violence, Prospero said.

He said the solution to the problem lies in changing the societal notion that violence is a justifiable way to solve conflicts. Individuals learn that violence is OK from many sources, such as their parents' punishing them with spankings or their country going to war, he said.

"We have to start with them when they're very young," Prospero said. "We need to teach them different types of social skills."

Prospero, who has made a career out of studying violence in college relationships, said curing other social ills, such as racism and sexism, also will help end domestic violence.

Much domestic violence also is exacerbated by psychopathology, Prospero said. It manifests itself in women in the from of borderline disorder and in men in the form of antisocial disorder, he said. Abuse stemming from mental issues is known among researchers to be the most dangerous.

"Our new focus is on making domestic violence intolerable in our state," said Utah Domestic Violence Council director Judy Kasten Bell, speaking of a recently compiled three-year state plan to halt family abuse. "We need to step up and recognize that domestic violence is happening in every corner of our state."

The plan includes finding new ways to express concern for victims, collaborating on resources and holding perpetrators accountable, Kasten Bell said.

It comes during October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

This month has seen several local government declarations against domestic violence and a spattering of candlelight vigils and marches in remembrance of those who have died amid family violence.

The monthlong commemoration and awareness effort has been held since the early 1980s, when advocates started to realize they weren't working well together. Some progress has been made, but more is needed, experts say.

People and governments are becoming more aware of the problem of domestic violence, and community groups are stepping up to help. Neighbors also are walking into harm's way in critical moments to save lives, and police officers throughout Utah rush to help victims daily.

Recently in West Valley City, a woman's neighbors sheltered her in their apartment while her 22-year-old, live-in boyfriend chased her. He had just finished choking her and wrestling her to the ground in front of her small child, according to documents filed in 3rd District Court on Oct. 1. The man then broke the neighbors' window and blinds, and threatened to throw his girlfriend off a balcony.

However, thanks to the neighbors' aid, the woman stayed safe, and the man was arrested. He was jailed but has been released on $25,000 bail.

To find resources or to learn more about domestic violence, visit udvc.org/home. Those who have been involved in domestic violence should call 888-897-LINK (5465).


E-mail: rpalmer@desnews.com