Will Utah’s Legislature chip in to help overwhelmed domestic violence programs?
SALT LAKE CITY — A call to police last year led Stephanie Mitchell to a lifeline.
“I was in an abusive relationship that turned into a night of horror,” Mitchell, 37, recalled.
It wasn’t the first time her ex acted out violently, she said, but it was the first time she ran to her neighbors’ home and asked them to call for help.
When she told Roy police he’d kicked her down the stairs and choked her, an officer asked Mitchell a series of questions, in what’s known as a lethality assessment protocol, or LAP.
Concerned about her safety, he called a victim advocate, who helped Mitchell apply for a protective order and later accompanied her to each court hearing for her aggressor.
“I couldn’t have done it without her,” Mitchell said.
State lawmakers are taking steps to mandate the LAP, with the goal of trying to get more Utahns like Mitchell out of harm’s way before it’s too late.
Utah groups serving victims of domestic and intimate partner violence welcome the move. But they’re already stretching to meet the need. And they expect more demand under the measure referring victims to shelters right away if police conducting a risk assessment find they’re in danger.
The organizations need more cash on hand to staff the phones and get those calling into a shelter or another safe space, said Erin Jemison with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.
“They could potentially see a doubling of calls and requests for help,” said Jemison, the coalition’s director of public policy. “There needs to be some funding to go with that.”
The groups providing shelter, legal help and other resources to victims are already doing more with less.
They’ve long received grants tied to the federal Victims of Crime Act — funded by fines and penalties paid into the federal court system — but changes in those prosecutions have led to fewer big payouts in recent years and a shrinking pot of money available.
State lawmakers may help fill the gap. They’re considering whether to funnel about $50 million toward victim services — more than ever before. About a third of the money would go toward domestic violence and the remainder helping victims of child abuse and sexual assault.
It would represent a big boost. Currently, about $6 million per year in state funding is spread across the state’s 16 domestic violence shelters.
The pending bill to mandate the LAP would also shell out an extra $2 million per year for law enforcers and service providers to get the program up and running.
At the YCC Family Crisis Center in Ogden, demand surged in the pandemic and remains high, said Ashley Daniels, the victim advocate who’s been working with Mitchell.
In 2019, YCC took just two calls a day from people in crisis, she added. That number has since grown to 27. And not only are the phones ringing more often, Daniels said, but the abuse is more severe.
“The survivors that we are meeting with are in deadlier situations than I think I’d ever seen before,” she told KSL.
But it hasn’t been easy. A 25% cut to the federal grant reduced that funding stream by about $219,000, Daniels said.
Her organization has made up the difference with a fundraising push and by piecing together other grants, she said, but it’s staring down further cuts that could reduce its three victim advocates to two.
“Funding is not something that we can afford to lose at all,” Daniels said. “Even a fraction of it.”
Despite the crunch, she and her colleagues are finding ways to support those who need help, she said.
Jemison noted the YCC and similar organizations throughout the state are staring down a new round of cuts to the federal grants and some may have to shut down altogether.
“That emergency is hitting Utah victim service providers now,” Jemison continued. “Our biggest fear always is that a person that didn’t have anyone pick up the phone, or they weren’t able to get into a room that night, is then in danger.”
Stephanie Mitchell told KSL it’s difficult to think that others may miss out on the same support she had.
“It breaks my heart,” she said. “It makes me cry.”
Her ex was sentenced to prison in December, but when it was Mitchell’s turn to face the judge and speak about his crimes, she found she was too overwhelmed to talk. Instead, she held a microphone, linked arms with Daniels and listened.
“Ashley was with me, got up there with me, and spoke my words,” Mitchell recalled.
Now she’s moving forward one day at a time, raising her young daughter, working in manufacturing and seeing someone new. She says her life would not have taken such a positive turn if not for Daniels’ help.
“My voice would never have been heard,” Mitchell said.
Before lawmakers adjourn next month, they’ll decide whether to approve the request for $30 million in onetime funding for victim services and another $20 million per year. A legislative budget committee is expected to release its funding priorities on Friday.
Domestic violence resources
If you or someone you know is going through abuse, help is available.
- Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465).
- Resources are also available online at the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition website.
There are several ways the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition can help people. Previous examples include providing financial assistance for funerals, for moving, for a variety of things, counseling that help people find a different path or stay healthy and safe and the relationship they’re in.
Sexual assault resources
If you have experienced sexual violence, you can access help and resources by calling Utah’s 24-hour Sexual Violence Help Line at 1-801-736-4356 (English) or 1-801-924-0860 (Spanish). You can also call the Rape Recovery Center office line during office hours at 801-467-7282 or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for free, confidential counseling.
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