36 years after Joyce Yost’s assault, rape victims have more help, but key funding has lapsed

Jun 23, 2021, 12:03 PM
joyce yost survivors of sexual assault help for rape victims...
Joyce Yost made the difficult decision to report her rape because she worried her attacker could victimize others. Photo courtesy of the Joyce Yost family.

In the nearly 40 years since the kidnapping, rape and murder of Joyce Yost, the landscape for the victims of rape has significantly changed, with more help available.

Notably, many state and federal laws established since 1985 now outline the rights of crime victims like Yost and give them a louder voice.

However, significant challenges still face victims in the criminal justice process.

Help for rape victims too late for Joyce Yost

Douglas Lovell raped Joyce Yost in April of 1985. He returned to take her life the following August, hoping to prevent her from testifying against him in court. Those crimes, and their decades-long aftermath, are the focus of the second season of KSL’s investigative podcast series COLD.

In the season’s finale episode, COLD host Dave Cawley describes some significant changes to the legal landscape that have occurred since that time. Those changes came too late to help Yost, but are intended to help better protect similar victims of rape and other violent crime.

He grabbed me by the throat and he uh, was forceful and told me if I screamed or said anything … he would tear my throat open.

— Joyce Yost, April 4, 1985

Violence Against Women Act

President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act (Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violence Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994), (VAWA), into law nearly ten years after the rape and murder of Joyce Yost. According to the Journal of Women’s Health, VAWA was created specifically to protect women from intimate partner violence.

VAWA came to fruition after women’s groups, activists representing battered women, law enforcement agencies, and the courts persuaded the U.S. Congress that the nation needed a federal statute establishing specific protections for women. Why? Proponents argued existing state laws did not sufficiently address violence targeting women.

The initial version of the law attempted to address the crime of rape by focusing on prevention. It also awarded money to organizations that provide help and services for rape victims. That grant money has, among other things, funded rape crisis hotlines. It also allowed for the hiring of victim advocates by government agencies and non-profit providers.

For the first time, under VAWA, a federal criminal law against battery also took effect.

While forcing himself upon Joyce, the man also tore open the front of her shirtwaist dress. The thread connecting three of its buttons snapped. Those buttons clattered onto the upholstered car seat, joining the severed fragments of Joyce’s fingernails.

— COLD Season 2, Episode 2

New federal help for crime victims

The federal law also required every American state to recognize protection orders issued in any other state.

And VAWA has helped to close gaps in the communication network between law enforcement, prosecutors, victims services, and attorneys. That has made it easier for the victims of intimate partner violence to navigate the intricacies of a legal system that, in the large view, did not always provide clear guidance on the protection it offered them.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that intimate partner violence against women declined 53% between 1993 and 2008. But lapses in the protection of domestic violence and sexual assault can and do still happen, as evidenced by the murder of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey in 2018.

Funding of VAWA has also been a significant issue in the years since its initial passage. The law requires reauthorization every 5 years and VAWA funding has lapsed multiple times since 1994. H.R. 1620, the bipartisan VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2021, was introduced on March 8, 2021. The bill passed in the House, but has not advanced yet in the Senate, leaving key funding in limbo.

By this time I’m, I’m really frightened and I do feel like my life is on the line. … My children, my grandkids, everybody was flashing through my mind.

— Joyce Yost, April 4, 1985

Rape Shield Laws

American laws originated from English common law, which considered a woman’s past sexual history a valid defense for those accused of sexual violence. If a defendant could prove a woman willingly engaged in sexual intercourse before an attack (and outside of marriage) it could discredit the woman’s testimony. A jury could become persuaded her past consent to sexual activity implied consent to the activity in the trial. 

In other words, her credibility came under question.

 I really don’t want to be put through the humiliation.

— Joyce Yost, April 4, 1985

Attorneys used this type of evidence in rape trials up until the 1970s, when states began adopting rape shield laws. Those shield laws largely came about as a result of efforts by organizations such as the National Organization of Women. NOW argued many women chose not to report sexual violence for exactly the reason Joyce Yost had stated in 1985; because they did not, and because she did not, want to suffer the humiliation.

In general, rape shield laws state that reputation or opinion evidence of an alleged victim’s prior sexual conduct is not admissible. There are exceptions, however. Shield laws also do not prohibit or protect against information about an accuser’s personal life from being shared or debated publicly.

Many states have also enshrined the rights of crime victims into law, but those laws tend to have more symbolic value than actual application in a court of law.

“They’re important and they’re critical,” Utah Office for Victims of Crime Director Gary Scheller told COLD, “but at the same time they’re just kind of warm and fuzzy and feel-good and have no teeth.”

Utah rape victims outnumber national average

The U.S. Department of Justice (as cited by the Utah Women and Leadership Project) noted “rape is the only violent crime for which Utah’s rate is higher than the national average, and this has been the case for the past 25 years.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, as cited by Utah’s Public Health Indicator-Based Information System, show that in 2019 the reported rape rate in Utah was 56.8 per 100,000 adults as compared to 42.6 per 100,000 adults nationwide.

How safe am I? If they come after him and, how safe, y’know?

— Joyce Yost to South Ogden Police Officer Mel Hackworth, April 4, 1985

Victim Information or Notification Everyday (VINE)

Fear, and the loss of control, are two common reactions for victims of  sexual assault. The Arizona Coalition to end Sexual and Domestic Violence reports many sexual assault and rape victims who have sought help fear their attacker “getting back” at them.

Few perpetrators of rape or sexual assault return to inflict further violence on their victims. Most cases of rape involve an attacker known to the victim. Joyce Yost did not know Douglas Lovell when he first assaulted her. Lovell had returned to make good on his threats.

“Statistically, rapists don’t return to rape the same person again,” Jan Schiller, a former YWCA rape victim advocate who’d met with Joyce Yost in the hours following her rape, said. “They certainly don’t return to murder the person so yeah, it was a shock.”

One method of combating that fear and loss of control is by empowering survivors of rape with information. A variety of victim notification services have arisen in the decades since Joyce Yost’s murder. The most prominent of them is VINE.

Originally available across the United States offline and now online, the Victim Information or Notification Everyday (VINE) system (VINELink, online) is the most widely used notification network in the U.S. It is available in 48 states and provides information from nearly 3,000 jails and prisons.

By registering with VINE, users receive automatic notification, by email, text, or phone call, about the custody status of an inmate. The level of detail provided by the system can vary from state to state, however; it does not typically include information about an inmate’s criminal history or other factors that might influence a victim’s decisions about personal safety.

Listen to the full season of COLD

Season 2 of the COLD podcast will take you inside the no-body homicide investigation triggered by Yost’s disappearance. Audio tapes never before made public will allow you to hear Yost, in her own voice, describe the events which preceded her death.

You will learn why police suspected one man, Douglas Lovell, yet were unable to arrest him at the time. And you will learn how some individuals and institutions gave — and continue to give — Lovell every opportunity to evade the ultimate penalty.

Hear Joyce Yost’s voice for the first time in the COLD podcast season 2, available to listen free on Amazon Music.

Free resources and help with sexual abuse are available 24/7 at  You can also call 800-856-HOPE (4673).

Past coverage: 

Today’s Top Stories


Provo Police need help to identify and locate a suspect in a 2020 cold case shooting that happened ...
Devin Oldroyd

Provo Police Department asking for help solving a 2020 cold case

Provo Police need help to identify and locate a suspect in a 2020 cold case shooting that happened at the Missionary Training Center.
2 days ago
salt lake mayorMendenhall guns...
Curt Gresseth

After NY law is struck down, two Utah experts sound off on gun rights

Two advocates on either side of the gun-control vs. gun rights debate sound off on the Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling to expand the right to carry a firearm in public.
2 days ago
A men’s maximum-security unit in the new Utah State Correctional Facility in Salt Lake City is pi...
Lindsay Aerts

State leaders cut the ribbon on new Utah State Correctional Facility

After five years of construction, a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Utah State Correctional Facility, located west of the Salt Lake City International Airport, was held Wednesday.
3 days ago
Salt Lake City Police are looking into a pair of armed bank robberies Tuesday night in the Salt Lak...
Mark Jones

Update: SLC armed robbery suspect taken into custody

Salt Lake City police are searching for Tanner Cram, age 27, a suspect behind a pair of alleged armed bank robberies Monday evening.
4 days ago
Salt Lake City Police Department recently conducted a speed enforcement operation, which resulted i...
Mark Jones

SLCPD issues 96 citations in recent speed enforcement operation

Salt Lake City Police handed out 96 citations to drivers, and issued 18 warnings to other drivers in a recent speed enforcement operation.
4 days ago
Speed limit sign that says the limit is 80 mph. The Washington County sheriff's office made a drug ...
Mark Jackson

Washington County Sheriff’s Office makes drug bust during traffic stop

The Washington County Sheriff's Office said one of its deputies kicked off the drug bust by making a traffic stop on I-15.
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Filing Their Taxes

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: How will last year’s child tax credits affect you?

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
36 years after Joyce Yost’s assault, rape victims have more help, but key funding has lapsed