(Editor’s Note: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This is the first in a series of four articles discussing the topic of relationship assault in many forms.)
by Tom HARALDSEN
It started with yelling matches—loud arguments between a husband and wife. As she now remembers it, “nothing serious.” But it soon became very serious. In a textbook example of tension leading to violence, Martha’s fairytale romance turned into a potential life-threatening experience that stretched out over weeks and months.
Martha (not her real name) can talk about it now—nearly three years after her nightmare ended when she left the relationship and her now ex-husband “disappeared into the night”—because she became another number in an ever-increasing percentage of Utah women and men who are victims of IPV—Intimate Partner Violence. And Martha hopes by telling her story, it might help others suffering the same lifestyle.
It’s a nationwide and worldwide problem, but it’s a much larger problem in the Beehive State than many would expect.
“Intimate partner violence is any violence that occurs between two people in a close relationship; it is not limited to physical violence alone,” said Megan Waters, a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health’s Violence and Injury Prevention Program. “IPV can include sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression. It can be committed by current or former intimate partners, and can occur both in-person or electronically, via mobile devices and social media platforms.”
For Martha, the physical violence began with pushing and shoving, generally after her husband had been drinking. The arguments were “always about something different—some new reason,” but the intensity continued to grow. It escalated to the point where he slapped her across the face and “on a couple of occasions, he did punch me in the stomach and chest.” Fortunately, it didn’t go further. She took their two children with her, moved in with a family member, filed for a protective order and eventually for divorce.
“He didn’t harass us or try to ‘make amends,’” she said. “We talked on the phone a lot, but one day, the calls stopped, he’d quit his job and he just kind of disappeared.” She has not heard from him since, but keeps her identity anonymous. “You never stop having a bit of fear,” she said.
In a UDOH report issued at the end of March, it stated that IPV affected 18.1 percent of adult females and 10 percent of adult males in Utah during 2016.
But those stats may actually be a bit low, according to Nicole Daugherty, who serves as the Victim Advocate for both Bountiful City and Roy City.
“I’m hearing that the problem could affect as many as one in every three Utahns, and one in every four adults nationwide,” she said. In her role, Daugherty deals with many different individuals with varying stories, though problems in domestic relationships are the most prominent.
“My job is to help the victims and be of service to them in any way we can,” she said. “I help them in the prosecution process, and in giving them knowledge of what they can expect in a court of law. Often, it also just means giving them support, or aiding them in telling their story.”
As she told us last fall in an interview shortly after joining Bountiful City, “With any victim, there are barriers to overcome. Having to repeat the circumstances or relive the memories of the crime when they report it or testify can be difficult for them. They often fear the impact to them financially, and to their children, if they take action. I’m here to be a sounding board and to offer them support.”
The UDOH study said that IPV is often linked to a stressful or traumatic childhood experience, something known as adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.
“ACEs include sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, IPV in the home, substance abuse in the home, having someone living in the home with a mental illness, parental separation or divorce, or having an incarcerated household member,” the report stated. When children observe an IPV situation between their parents, it can trigger a similar behavior in them years later when they become adults. In short, IPV is the gift that keeps on giving many years of unpleasant consequences.
“There are actions that a person can take to stop abuse,” Daugherty said. “First and foremost, they should call the police department. They should also call Safe Harbor here in Davis County (the center’s crisis line, manned 24/7, is 801-444-9161). Safe Harbor takes the time to sit down and listen and help tailor a plan or offer counsel. It’s an open place with acceptance and understanding, and victims should never feel ashamed or be afraid to reach out for help.”
As Martha said, “I wish I’d reacted sooner. I think my kids and me are in a good place right now, but we got out early, before things really got worse.”
Waters recommends that anyone experiencing IPV can also call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line at 1-800-897-LINK (5465) or the Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crime Line at 1-888-421-1100.