Utah domestic violence victim advocates call for funding amid a surge of demand

Nov 7, 2023, 4:04 PM | Updated: 4:04 pm

advocates hold up signs supporting domestic violence victims - SALT LAKE CITY -- The new domestic v...

FILE: Domestic violence survivor Jenny Andrus, left, waves to motorists as she participates in a honk and wave during the West Valley City Victim Service’s Domestic Violence Awareness Night at the West Valley City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (Steve Griffin/Deseret News)

(Steve Griffin/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The new domestic violence lethality assessment law in Utah appears to be working well, but victim resource providers say they need help meeting the surge in demand.

Thanks to a new law passed during the 2023 General Legislative Session, as of early July, Utah law enforcement personnel are now required to ask victims a series of questions to gauge their situation during potential domestic violence calls.

Related: Cox signs bill requiring lethality assessments in Utah domestic violence cases

Since that law went into effect, Erin Jemison, director of public policy at the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition told KSL NewsRadio that victim resource providers have seen 80% more people reaching out for help.

From July to October of this year, Jemison said they saw around 1,700 victims come forward, compared to around 540 during that stretch of 2022.

Kimmi Wolfe, also with the UDVC said about 30% of callers request temporary shelter.

Related: Advocates thank lethality-assessment law for increase in calls

The problem: Jemison said shelters were overwhelmed before the new law went into effect.

“They’re trying to make it work, they’re boot-strapping,” Jemison said. “Honestly, there’s not enough shelter beds. So a lot of times, they’re putting people in hotels, they’re safety planning with them around other places they can stay.

“It’s not ideal in terms of places where they can make sure they have the support services.”

‘It’ll take more than building more shelters’

As for solutions, Jemison said it’s not as simple as building more shelters or expanding programs.

“With what funding? There’s already not enough funding for the 16 programs across the state,” Jemison said.

Jemison said the programs need at least $6 million in funding to keep up with the increased demand that came from the lethality assessments.

If that $6 million came through, Jemison said it would probably go toward keeping the existing programs open and staffed in order to continue providing important services. Services, which Jemison noted, go beyond offering crisis shelters.

“To make sure that there’s some longer-term case management available to these victims … To make sure that there’s always that crisis line available to them [and] to provide some basic needs as they get up on their feet.”

But $6 million is the bare minimum, Jemison said.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say they’re in desperate need of more resources, and specifically sustainable resources, from the state.”

Ahead of the 2024 Legislative Session, service providers are pushing for more funding. Jemison said that it seems like the state will have a limited budget to work with next year, but that isn’t going to stop providers from asking for what they need.

“The whole key of lethality assessment is connecting victims to services. And these services need the state’s help.”

Regardless of the strain though, Jemison said they don’t want people to stop calling for help. “No matter how full they are, that crisis line is always answered 24/7, 365.”


Domestic violence resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or abuse, help is available.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

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Utah domestic violence victim advocates call for funding amid a surge of demand