On the EDge: Culture ill-equipped to combat domestic violence

Photo by diego_cervo/iStock/Getty Images Plus; St. George News

OPINION — In the end, it’s all about the culture, and, in Utah, the culture is deeply rooted.

That’s why when it comes to righting societal wrongs, change comes at glacial speed.

Particularly when you are dealing with a dirty little secret like domestic violence.

We recently completed a month of awareness about domestic violence.

We all know by now that at least 1 in 3 women in Utah will experience sexual violence during their lifetime – about 10 percent higher than the national rate: Approximately 30 percent of all homicides in Utah last year were the result of domestic violence or violence at the hands of a family member or cohabitant; there is a domestic violence-related murder every 33 days and approximately three domestic violence-related suicides every month.

We know that men are also victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

We know that domestic violence is defined as:

  • Actual or threats of physical violence.
  • Actual or threats of sexual violence.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse (e.g., name calling or put-downs).
  • Stalking (e.g., excessive calls/texts/emails, monitoring daily activities, using technology to track a person’s location).
  • Financial abuse (e.g., withholding money, ruining credit, stopping a partner from getting or keeping a job).
  • Threats to “out” a person’s sexual orientation to family, work or friends.

And, we know that there are several organizations in the state where those who find themselves in such a predicament can find shelter. In Washington and Kane counties there is the Dove Center, main number 435-628-1204, crisis number 435-628-0458 and the Erin Kimball Foundation telephone number 435-627-9232. Iron, Garfield and Beaver counties are serviced by the Canyon Creek Women’s Crisis Center, main number 435-867-9411, crisis number 435-865-7443. Use those numbers if you are in an abusive relationship. Pass them on to somebody who you suspect may be in a dangerous relationship – you could save a life.

But, what we don’t know or talk about are the hidden victims, the women and children tucked away in the shadows of this nightmare whose lives are at stake. They are part of the unknown, unreported, unprotected, shuttered into this brutal existence because of fear of coming forward for help or a culture that promises to protect them but, often, leaves them vulnerable.

I’ve seen that culture.

It simply does not work.

I recall an instance when my staff was covering a gruesome story about an 18-year-old man who had raped a very young child entrusted to his mother’s Iron County day care facility.

The man’s mother and her friend came into my office, plopped down across from me and glared.

“There is no reason for this story to be in the newspaper,” the woman said angrily. “It is nobody’s business! Besides, my son has already repented and gotten himself good with God.”

I looked across my desk in disbelief.

“Ma’am, your son may be good with God, but he still has to answer to the people of Utah,” I replied, ” and it is our job to inform those people about what is going on in our courtrooms.”

That is where the problem lies.

Most of the time, when domestic or sexual violence occurs, instead of going to the police or a shelter, the victims turn to clergy to solve the problem.

Now, while they may be adept at conducting church services, clergy is rarely, if ever, trained in dealing with the problems of domestic or sexual violence.

And, while I have nothing against prayer, dialing 911 instead of the local priest or bishop is more beneficial. Gospel teachings and pastoral counseling will not open a clenched fist.

The issue of domestic violence is, of course, complex and riddled with longstanding influences and, yes, unwarranted guilt.

Children raised in a household where domestic violence takes place are more liable to carry that behavior into adulthood, either as a victim or perpetrator. The abuse also often extends to the children, who then believe it is OK to lay hands on children of their own, thus continuing the cycle of horror.

Look, it is simply not OK to put your hands on your spouse, partner, significant other or children.

If you do so, you belong in jail.

If you do so, you should be forced to undergo psychological examination and therapy.

But, that doesn’t happen here in Utah, where a year ago the Legislature passed a bill that no longer requires judges to place offenders into mandatory therapy. It’s just another example of culture, that old bugaboo, at work again, especially in a male-dominant culture where forgiveness for the perpetrator seems more readily available than shelter for the victim. Besides, the forgiveness thing only goes so far as most perpetrators escalate their levels of abuse and violence.

Perhaps the most commonly asked question is “Why doesn’t he/she just walk away from the relationship?”

There are, of course, a lot of factors at play.

Perhaps there are children involved.

Perhaps the victim is solely dependent on the abuser for food and shelter.

Perhaps religious influences prevent walking out.

Or, perhaps, that crazy little thing called love gets in the way and the victim continues to see the aggressor as the person they fell in love with and makes excuses for their behavior.

As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated.

But it shouldn’t be.

Nobody has the right to demean another person.

Nobody has the right to abuse another person.

Nobody has the right to lay hands on another person.

And, everybody has the right to walk through the door if any of that takes place.

A truly nurturing culture would recognize that and offer support and shelter for those trapped in this horrible cycle of covering up the dirty little secrets of domestic violence and abuse.

No bad days!


Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


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  • Rob83 May 16, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Great article. I’m living in a nightmare and have made several attempts to get out of it. I have stayed at the Dove Center 2 times , Woman’s shelter in Cedar, and was on the waiting list with Erin Kimball program. Even with their help for deposits on my own place I couldn’t get approved for a place due to my credit thar my husband destroyed. I had even gotten away from him for over a year and got my own place all to have it crash in on me because the rent was too high and my utilities were about to get shut off, which sucked because I just had him served divorce papers. It was still hard to do the divorce because, great, I get to save myself but my poor kids would have to stay with him, alone. DCFS says his parenting is poor parenting but unless the child has been physically hurt there is nothing they can do, real nice. So just dealing with the everyday verbal/emotional and occasional physical abuse, constant financial abuse…

    • comments May 16, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      If there are women named Rob out there it sure is news to me.

      • PiousInquisitor May 16, 2017 at 6:27 pm

        Her name is really Roberta. She is Hispanic. News served.

  • Real Life May 16, 2017 at 10:10 am

    I personally know of an instance where a woman went to her bishop for help, because of her abusive husband. He was not only abusing her, but their children. She was told that she simply needed to pray harder. Luckily, she has since gotten away from him, and the cult.

  • Sapphire May 16, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Why do women have children with abusive men? (And vice versa)

    • comments May 16, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      Women unconsciously and instinctively are attracted to men that they perceive to have “alpha traits”. Often these men end up not making very good long-term mates or parents–think loser, chronically drunk wife beaters that ignore their kids and watch a lot of NFL.

      Often weak willed men with low self-esteem will end up with a woman who has a dominant and assertive personality who has the potential to become an abuser.

      It just is what it is.

      • comments May 16, 2017 at 2:44 pm

        I think the word was subconsciously not unconsciously

  • comments May 16, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    Ok Ed. I’ll admit I’m surprised that ‘bugaboo’ is actually a word

    “Definition of bugaboo
    plural bugaboos
    : an imaginary object of fear
    : bugbear 2; also : something that causes fear or distress out of proportion to its importance”

    And bugbear too!! learn somethin’ new er’day huh? 😉

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