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News » Cover Story


While state funds for domestic violence dwindle, the cost in lives climbs



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Utah's shelters historically have received state money through a formula that gives greater funding to shelters that provide a greater number of nights of shelter.

Jennifer Campbell, executive director of - South Valley Sanctuary - NIKI CHAN
  • Jennifer Campbell, executive director of South Valley Sanctuary

Jenn Campbell runs South Valley Sanctuary, a shelter hidden behind a fence in the southern end of the valley. "We try to make it as homely as possible," Campbell says, opening the door to a boutique where survivors can acquire "gently used" donated clothing.

"The hard component is our practice doesn't fit the model that [the shelter-night formula] is trying to serve," Campbell says. "We are dealing with trust and safety. It isn't about putting families in rooms."

While providing shelter from domestic violence is important, she says, the key is building trust with victims. This means South Valley provides an array of support services, whether it be counseling, working with attorneys to get protective orders or a myriad of other needs victims have as they try to safely untangle their lives from their abusers.

When a City Weekly reporter visited South Valley Sanctuary, the shelter was full. Campbell says there were 40 people staying there, 20 to 25 of whom were children. On average, the shelter turns away 600 to 700 individuals each year.

Echoing other shelter directors, Campbell says South Valley simply doesn't have sufficient financial resources for their needs. "This is basic need. I don't know we can present it any better."

Campbell feels that aspects of the shelter-night formula "almost penalize" shelters, though, she says, "we all try to serve victims in a way that's victim-centered."

Across the valley, a few days later, the YWCA in downtown Salt Lake City was also full. In 2013, the Y turned away 1,200 people. The day a City Weekly reporter visited, there were 227 people staying on the campus, 156 of whom were children.

Keri Jones, chief program officer at the YWCA - NIKI CHAN
  • Keri Jones, chief program officer at the YWCA

Keri Jones, chief program officer at the YWCA, notes that while domestic-violence services grew out of providing shelter, "I dare say if you ask the majority of victims, they don't want to leave home. They just want the abuse to stop."

The DCFS' Oxborrow says the shelter-night funding formula was an attempt to organize and equalize funding. She is set to change that formula, she says, to a yet-to-be-decided new approach.


From 2010 through the end of 2013, according to statistics City Weekly requested from the Department of Health, 30 of the 67 men and eight women responsible for a total of 86 domestic-violence-related homicides in Utah had prior criminal charges for domestic violence.

Of the 30 killers, just 17 had been ordered to treatment, though it is mandatory under state statute that offenders convicted of domestic violence—a misdemeanor—receive treatment.

But the statute does not codify exactly what that treatment should be. Of the 17 ordered to treatment, nine were ordered to domestic-violence treatment, while the remaining eight were given bishop counseling or life-skills and anger-management courses. Only nine of the 17 completed their treatment.


Judge John Baxter of the Salt Lake City justice courts says that while under active judicial supervision, a domestic-violence defendant "seems a little more compliant in recidivism and the victim feels a little bit safer."

But, he continues, "there's been no studies so far that have shown a lasting effect on the perpetrator."

Judge Rick Romney has a dedicated domestic-violence calendar in his Provo Justice Court. His hope, he says, is that his court will act as a "homicide-prevention business," using evaluation by a DCFS-appointed evaluator and treatment by a DCFS-regulated treatment provider to help people acquire better skill sets.

Baxter had a similarly formalized domestic-violence court for nine years but ended it partly because of a lack of funding and partly because he felt it had little impact. The presence of watchful judges seemed to do little to change perpetrators in the long run. And, he says, "the treatment models at this point don't seem to do much."

A Utah statute that dictates a minimum of 16 weeks of sessions for domestic-violence treatment meets no one's needs, he argues. "If a person really needed batterer intervention, 16 sessions wasn't going to get anywhere near what was necessary," Baxter says. "And if he didn't need it, 16 was too much to sit in sessions with batterers learning things an individual didn't need to learn."

Judges feel caught, Baxter says. There's no way of predicting how someone appearing before him for a class B misdemeanor involving a punch or slap might go on to murder someone, he says. "We want it to end; we know treatment available to this point doesn't seem to be particularly effective, yet we're reluctant to do nothing," he says. "We'd really like treatment professionals or academics to end domestic violence. Maybe that's hoping for the moon; I hope not."


There are 94 licensed treatment providers in Utah, but only 19 contract with DCFS. In order to contract with the state, a provider has to meet certain regulations. Oxborrow says she's overhauled the contract language and has "extensive plans to bring in high-quality training along with the increasing expectation that they will use evidence-based programs."

But that leaves the bulk of treatment providers either licensed by Division of Professional Licensing and DHS Office of Licensing, or only by DOPL. They can set their fees at any rates, can tell the court no intervention is required, and are not subject to their programming or the outcomes of their treatment being monitored.

City Weekly requested interviews with five treatment providers, both agencies and independent therapists, through phone calls and e-mails, but none responded.

The Utah Association for Domestic Violent Treatment, formed in 2012, seeks to represent treatment providers. One of its founders, Isaac Phillips, a licensed clinical social worker, recalls holding a meeting with 17 agencies in domestic-violence treatment to talk about what a court-ordered evaluation process of an offender should look like. "We had 17 quite different approaches," he says.

And there are several large, well-known agencies that, he says, have never attended a conference or meetings of UADVT or the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition in his eight years.

"What are they doing behind their doors? That's the scary thing," he says, noting that this is strictly his opinion. "What we know as best practices, there's little holding them to do that in their agencies. If people want to make big money, the system, due to its looseness, allows for that."

Some methods of treatment, shelter advocates say, can aggravate situations. "What I notice is people mention, 'My abuser did the treatment, did the classes, he stopped hitting, but the psychological abuse is getting worse,'" says South Valley case manager Stella Soler. Abusers learn from other abusers in groups what works in terms of avoiding more jail time while keeping control over their victim, she says.

In total, according to a City Weekly record request to DCFS, the state spends approximately $1.2 million annually for adult offenders, child services and survivors to get treatment. But because the system is highly complex, only Utah's courts typically access contracts, resulting in the bulk of the money going to help pay for offender treatment.

Oxborrow believes Utah is the only state using mandatory criminal fees paid by offenders to financially offset criminal services for domestic-violence offenders. DCFS' domestic-violence treatment budget is "dedicated to serve families, but by and large, it's used by offenders."

Children get neglected, says Jones, whose background is in working with children caught up in domestic violence. "I tell my staff that if they do nothing else, make the child feel safe and secure and help them identify their own emotions," she says. "Serve them, rather than send all these wounded little humans into the universe with no idea how to contain their own rage, which they're going to exhibit one day on someone else."

According to state figures, 80 children will find their mother dead or see domestic-violence in Utah each year, but only 60 percent will receive therapy, and those often only once.

"I don't understand why our community doesn't want to focus more on our own children," Jones says.


Oxborrow hopes to rebuild DCFS' regional DV specialist network and have a domestic-violence specialist assigned in each region by the summer. She's also pushed for a detailed assessment of domestic violence in Utah. "To help us get to a meaningful system of care, we need a data-driven needs assessment."

It's taken a year, but finally, a contract for an independent assessment team is about to be inked, she says.

Oxborrow also met with Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, in late 2014 about securing funding of $750,000 for lethality-assessment personnel for all the shelters. He says he will run a bill to promote this approach, or possibly seek an appropriation.

But while describing it as a "very worthwhile program," he says he's already been told "there isn't any money for new programs this year." He adds that he will also be pushing for the shelters' one-time funding of $393,500 from the last session to be made ongoing, making the total request by victim-service-providers for the 2016 fiscal year $1.1 million.

For the past two years, DCFS has made a financial request for the shelters on their behalf. But while Oxborrow remains a passionate advocate for the shelters that contract with her, her boss Brent Platt declined to have DCFS ask on behalf of shelters this time around. He will be their biggest cheerleader, he says, but has to focus on internal budget issues and "child-welfare issues." The shelters "need to be their own force to be recognized with," he says.

The governor's proposed budget for this session does not include any recommendations for money for the shelters, "so it's going to be tough," Oxborrow says.

But New Horizons and other organizations that give support to victims, Mayo says, offer "people empowerment to help their lives."

Providing shelter, she says, can be "life-saving. It's sometimes the only place people have to go. And their lives matter."

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