Utah women combat domestic violence

Watch a multimedia slideshow about two Utah women’s shelters.

Story and multimedia by WHITNEY BUTTERS

Helpless. Violated. Traumatized. Overcome with fear so pervasive she was afraid to close her eyes at night, not knowing what he would do next or of what he was capable.

“I kept hoping that it would go away,” Kristine said with a somber look in her eyes. “But it didn’t go away.”

Kristine, who chose to use an alternative name to protect her identity, lost her income, house and way of life when she became a victim of domestic violence.

The reality is that domestic violence situations like Kristine’s happen more often than many realize. These cases affect all aspects of life, including economic, emotional and physical security.

While many men are also experience domestic violence, women make up 85 percent of all victims. Moreover, one in every four women will experience domestic violence at some point during her lifetime, according to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Almost 40,000 domestic violence crisis calls were made in Utah in 2009-2010, and approximately 4,800 people across the state spent time in domestic violence shelters and transitional housing, according to the Utah Domestic Violence Council (UDVC).

A six-week survey conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline found 54 percent of victims reported a “change in their household’s financial situation in the past year.” But dismal financial situations do not directly produce domestic violence. “Bad economy doesn’t cause abuse,” said Judy Kasten Bell, UDVC executive director. “It exacerbates it in already existing unhealthy relationships.”

Whether a couple is rich or poor also does not signify that an unhealthy or abusive relationship is more likely to develop.

“We know that abuse is no forgiver of socioeconomic status, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation,” said Tallie Viteri, shelter manager at the Your Community Connection of Ogden/Northern Utah. “It’s straight across board.”

Physical and sexual abuse are the most perceptible forms of abuse, but abusers use a variety of behavior tactics over their victims. Economic abuse, which can include preventing the victim from getting a job or controlling his or her own money, and using children as leverage to keep victims from leaving are two common strategies used to make women in particular think they are trapped in their situation.

“Women are afraid to leave for financial reasons because the abuser is their source of income,” said Pamela Soren, victim advocate with the Davis County attorney’s office. “They don’t know what do without financial support, especially with children.”

Regardless of which methods are used, abusers have the same underlying motivation. “Abuse is really rooted in power and control,” Viteri said. “The abusers just use different tactics to control the victim.”

Beyond gaining power and control, abusers often further oppress their victims by altering their perceptions of self worth. “These abusers are very manipulative and know how to get control and get into their head and convince them that they deserve the abuse and that they are not capable of being on their own,” Soren said.

Multiple reports cite personal insecurity and fears of economic uncertainty as factors that make it difficult for women to gather the courage to remove themselves from the situations permanently. “For some people, it takes one time trying to leave,” Kristine said. “Some people it takes 16 or 20 times. Sometimes people die.”

Despite the number of times a woman may return to her abuser, Kristine said that each attempt further prepares a victim to be ready to accept help. “If they do go back, it’s not necessarily a failure,” Kristine said. “It’s just one time closer.”

Kristine said she will always remember the relief she felt when she finally sought help from her local domestic violence shelter. “When I lay down, I knew that I could sleep,” she said. “I felt so safe because there was no way he was going to get in to me.”

Even after the initial relief, Viteri believes the real struggle for victims of abuse comes after they get out of an abusive situation. “They kind of have to start their life over from scratch, which is especially difficult with children,” she said.

Shelters across the state seek to help women rebuild their lives. The YWCA in Salt Lake City, like many other shelters, provides a variety of resources to help victims get back on their feet, including crisis intervention, advocacy programs, daycare and employment seminars.

In addition to shelter facilities, the YWCA also houses the Family Justice Center, which is a centralized location for access to the Department of Workforce Services, Division of Child and Family Services, the Salt Lake Police Department and various other legal services.

Transitional housing is also available for both single women and mothers to lease without the obligation of room checks or curfews.

Constance Hassell, shelter coordinator of the YWCA, said the housing and other programs offered are structured to give the victims flexibility. “It’s all about choice, which many of these women have never had,” she said.

Kristine now has the opportunity to give back after her own experience recovering in a domestic violence shelter. She works as an intake specialist at a shelter in Utah to help victims heal emotionally, find affordable housing and become financially independent.

Kristine’s experience came full circle the first time she put someone in one of the shelter’s rooms for the night. Kristine listened to the woman detail the abuse she had endured, helped feed her children and set the family up with pillows and blankets for the night.

“Seeing that look of, ‘I know I’m safe tonight. I can sleep,’ I knew that feeling,” Kristine said. “I felt so good that I could do that for somebody else.”

Empowering victims is the goal of every domestic violence program. The UDVC motto states, “There is no excuse for abuse,” and there are people and programs throughout the state and country trying to combat it. “It’s important to get the word out that it’s not a secret and there are resources available,” Viteri said.

And that assurance of help and hope is what Kristine wishes all of her fellow victims could hear. “There are people that do care and there is support out there,” she said. “You don’t deserve to live that way.”