Study reveals only 25% of Utahns believe domestic violence is a problem, here’s what else it found

Feb 1, 2024, 2:35 PM | Updated: Feb 2, 2024, 7:45 am

More Utah women were shot and killed by a loved one than a stranger in 2022 but a new study finds o...

More Utah women were shot and killed by a loved one than a stranger in 2022 but a new study finds only 25% or residents think domestic violence is a problem. In this 2020 photo a Unified police office at the scene of a domestic violence homicide in Midvale. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — One in three Utah women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, yet only a quarter of Utahns believe domestic violence is a problem, a new study revealed. The latest study done by the Utah State University Women & Leadership Project revealed Utahns’ perceptions and understanding of the challenges women and girls face in Utah.

The study

The 80-question survey covered multiple areas: community engagement, safety and security, education, health and well-being, and the workplace.

The UWLP collected data from Oct. 24, 2023, to Nov. 30, 2023, and 3,505  Utahns 18 and older participated in the study.

The study found despite Utah’s high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence, many people still lack awareness of the problems or potential solutions.

The results were divided into three categories, domestic violence, sexual assault and gender discrimination/sexual harassment.

Domestic violence findings:

  • Only 25.6% firmly agreed domestic violence is a problem in Utah.
  • 62.4% of Utahns’ agreed that emotional abuse is just as serious as physical abuse.
  • About one-third of Utahns were either neutral or disagreed that they know where to find domestic violence resources and support in their communities.
  • About half of the respondents agreed that they know how to take concrete steps to help address domestic violence in their community.

One in three Utah women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime which can include sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.

Despite the high amount of women who experience domestic violence, only 25% firmly agreed it’s a problem in the state.

“Through the decades, Utahns’ challenges with domestic violence have not been discussed openly,” said Susan R. Madsen, founding director of the UWLP. “Yet, hundreds of people around the state have tirelessly helped survivors and their children, though many seeking shelter have been turned away because of limited resources and capacity. These concerns have surfaced more publicly in the past few years, particularly with recent, highly visible tragedies. However, this study found a persistent lack of awareness of the problems, resources, and solutions.”

  • Many Utahns are aware that sexual assault is a disturbing trend in Utah.
  • 85% of respondents agreed that any unwanted sexual contact or behavior is sexual assault.
  • 19.7% felt they could do nothing to help change sexual assault in their communities, while another 21.3% were unsure. Most at least somewhat agreed that they could help.
  • While 60% of participants agreed at some level that they knew where to find sexual assault resources in their communities, only 15.3% strongly agreed.

One in three Utah women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime and one in six Utah women will experience rape in their lifetime.

The study explained Utah is ranked No. 9 out of 50 states for the number of rapes per capita.

“In the past few years, awareness of this significant societal problem has risen, but the work has just begun,” Madsen said. “This study found that there is still a serious lack of awareness regarding the problem, resources, and solutions. To keep more Utah women and girls safe, awareness building and prevention must catapult forward.”

KSL TV conducted a year-long investigation into exposed systemic failures in Utah to address sexual violence. This investigation explored gaps at every level of Utah’s criminal justice system, and the impact on Utahns.

KSL Investigates: Failure to Protect

  • 83.5% of respondents agreed that sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination are problems in Utah.
  • 82.3% disagreed that people make a bigger deal out of these two issues than is warranted.
  • The findings suggest many are uncertain of what to do if they experience or see others experience sexual harassment and other types of gender-based discrimination.
  • Most survey participants do not trust that organizations in Utah would appropriately handle a sexual harassment report. In fact, only 11.1% either agreed or strongly agreed that this was the case.

The study noted how it is difficult to track progress regarding sexual harassment and discrimination but survey questions provided insight into women’s experiences in the Utah workplace and beyond.

“To me, one of the most troubling findings from this study is that Utah employees, particularly women, do not trust that organizations in the state will appropriately handle a sexual harassment situation if it is reported,” Madsen said. “Trust is essential if Utah women are going to feel safe, and feeling safe is a critical component of thriving.”

These findings could help lawmakers and business managers gain an understanding of what changes need to happen in Utah. Several bills address domestic violence in the legislature this season.

Current legislation

HB81 encompasses some domestic violence modifications. Sponsored by  Rep. Matthew Gwynn, R-Farr West, the modifications would make “propelling a bodily substance or material” like spit,  qualify as a domestic violence offense in certain circumstances.

SB50, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, amends the crime of aggravated assault. Previously, it was considered a form of aggravated assault to impede the breathing or circulation of another person only if it was “likely to produce a loss of consciousness.” The amendment would change that. It states, “any act that intentionally or knowingly impedes the breathing or circulation of another individual by the actor’s use of unlawful force or violence.”

HB432, sponsored by Rep. Anthony Loubet, R-Kearns, would allow clergy to report ongoing abuse or neglect even if it were confessed to them if they believed the abuse was ongoing. It also provides some protections for the clergy who report the abuse.

Both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said told KSL they were not opposed to the bill. 

HB272 creates specific requirements for determining child custody. Sponsored by Rep. Paul Cutler, R-Davis, the bill would require a court to consider any evidence relating to domestic violence or abuse by a parent, and limits certain previous orders to improve the relationship between a parent and child. When supervised visits are required, this bill states an individual trained in domestic violence would be given preference to be present for those visits. This bill also mandates court personnel get education and training involving child custody. HB272 was created in response to the murder-suicide when 49-year-old Parth Gandhi, killed his 16-year-old son, Om.

Murder-suicide sparks calls for reform to Utah’s family court system  

HB166 would alter who is classified as a restricted person and therefore unable to purchase a firearm. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, and would make any individual with a protective order for domestic violence and any individual with a domestic violence conviction a restricted person.

HB308, Crime Victim Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Tyler Clancy, R-Provo, and Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, focuses on victims of crime. The bill requires the Utah Office for Victims of Crime to provide law enforcement with educational materials about sexual assault victims. The bill also would create a victim rights committee in each judicial district of the state.

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Study reveals only 25% of Utahns believe domestic violence is a problem, here’s what else it found