I have known of Leah Moses’ work for years. She has been passionate about protecting children from abusive parents and served on the board of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. She worked tirelessly as an advocate for changing the court systems in Utah. Why? Because she worked for 15 years to protect her own son from his father and knew of Utah’s broken system. And yet, on May 12, this son was murdered by his father. Court documents showed that she feared for her children’s safety. She tried everything she could think of to protect her son, but in the end could not. She was not believed.
Unfortunately, she is not alone. I’ve heard from many Utah mothers who are in the same fight to protect their children from abusive fathers. Week after week they are required to send their children to a parent who has been abusive in some way. Occasionally the abuser is the mother, but in far more situations it is the father.
Of course, the domestic violence murders in Enoch have shaken all of us as well. As more evidence was gathered, it was clear the murderer had a history of unchecked coercive control and domestic/child abuse that met a terrible end. The victims attempted to get help from clergy, the police and the Division of Child and Family Services, but in the end they were not protected.
National statistics confirmed that 80% of DCFS cases are deemed “unsupported,” which means that the claims can’t be proven. This doesn’t mean that the abuse hasn’t occurred; it just means there is insufficient evidence to support a case. Often this is due to the abuser claiming the abuse was an accident, which most abusers tend to do, or that the alleged abuser had some reason for doing it. This doesn’t make sense to me. According to the National Family Violence Law Center, Utah is in line with the national data.
Medical professionals are concerned as well. Recently I spoke to Dr. Candice Smith, Layton Hospital Department Chair of Pediatrics and Member of Utah Medical Association Board of Delegates, who told me that pediatricians across the state are frustrated because as mandated reporters, their goal is to protect children from abuse. But when they follow up to make sure the child is safe, they are told that the case was unsupported, leaving the child in harm’s way.
In late 2022, I spoke with three women who were attempting to protect their children from abusive fathers. Each had divorced with the hope of keeping their kids safe from their abusers but found that post-divorce they were unable to do so. For years these women were court ordered to send their vulnerable children to abusive fathers knowing full well that the abuse to their children was continuing. They had no recourse under the law. All three of these women were highly educated and resourceful, but to no avail. It made me think about the thousands of parents in Utah who are facing the same situation and may not have the funds and voices of these three women. Something is terribly amiss when a parent cannot protect a child.
Bottom line, something is very wrong in our state if our children are forced to spend time with abusive parents — whether it is physical, sexual, emotional or other forms of harm. Even witnessing abusive behavior has damaging consequences and is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience, or ACE, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood that can change brain development and are “linked to chronic health problems, mental illness and substance misuse in adulthood.”
So, what can we do? Passing the Keeping Children Safe From Family Violence Act in Utah would at least be a start in the next legislative session. But even without passing that legislation, DCFS and court professionals could immediately begin protecting more children in these situations by learning more about coercive control and abuse dynamics. Learn more about this and other efforts to protect children and families from domestic violence at the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.
My heart goes out to Leah Moses at this difficult time. Sadly, her son’s death was a preventable tragedy. As I’ve said many times, “Why are we as a society not moving heaven and earth to protect Utah’s children?” Utah must better protect and support our kids and the people who try to keep them safe.
Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman endowed professor of leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.