Resource Data

Data gaps leave scope of domestic violence unknown

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Utah does not have a complete and precise idea of ​​the prevalence of domestic violence in the state. And that makes it harder to find real solutions and help the Utahns go through it, one defender said.

“Without this data, our responses are not as informed,” Liz Sollis, spokesperson for the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, told the Salt Lake Tribune. This means that in many cases the survivors are “on their own, which could put them at greater risk of harm or, worse yet, death.”

Now state lawmakers must figure out how to fill the data gap on Utah’s domestic violence.

The discrepancies in information occur at the local, state and federal levels, lawmakers heard at the Nov. 17 meeting of the Interim Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. And inconsistencies are occurring between law enforcement and other state and community agencies, Captain Tanner Jensen, director of the Statewide Information and Analysis Center at the Department of Public Safety, told them.

One problem, Jensen said, is that situations don’t always qualify as domestic violence. For example, a Moab police officer who responded to domestic disturbances reported in August between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie described it as a “mental health crisis,” according to a report Jensen presented to lawmakers.

The report, titled “Analysis of Domestic Violence in Utah,” stems from a bill that Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, passed the last session regarding domestic violence training for police.

“Domestic violence is such a horrific and important problem that we have to tackle, that we cannot have these kinds of gaps in our data,” Pierucci said at the November meeting. “We should be able to ask them seemingly simple questions and be able to collect this information. “

The representative told the Salt Lake Tribune last week that she was drafting a bill to correct these data gaps in the next session, and that she was in talks with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, the courts, prosecutors and the Statewide Information and Analysis Center for this.

Meanwhile, Representative Ryan Wilcox R-Ogden said last month that he is also planning a broader bill on how data is collected and shared in the criminal justice system.

Departments have different ways of collecting data, and they don’t always share information through the same systems, which leads to inconsistencies, Jensen said.

“There isn’t one good place to find data (on domestic violence), and it’s obtained agency by agency,” the report said.

According to the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, one in three women in Beehive state will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, compared to one in four women nationally.

The coalition oversees the state’s Lethality Assessment program, which connects law enforcement and first responders with victim service providers. According to Jensen, 72 law enforcement agencies participate in this program, while other departments may use another method. Pierucci said it would be helpful to compare “apples to apples”.

“I think for a very long time we had hoped that we could eventually bring everyone together, but it just isn’t moving as quickly as we need it to,” Pierucci said last month. “And when it comes to data, that throws a huge wrench into the system.”

There is also no consistent code or flag for domestic violence cases in national and statewide databases, according to the report, among other issues.

“We are missing a large amount of data that just goes unreported,” Jensen said.

What we do know about domestic violence in Utah, according to the report, is that women and children are the most likely victims, while a boyfriend or girlfriend is the primary perpetrator. And based on available data, the most common domestic violence offense between 2016 and 2020 was common assault.

Analysts found that the number of arson attacks related to domestic violence included in the Bureau of Criminal Identification’s annual crime reports increased from six in 2019 to 34 the following year. Over the past few years, the number has ranged between two and six.

“It is possible that COVID-19 and other significant events in 2020 may have impacted these increases,” the report says.

The number of domestic violence-related burglaries also rose to 173 in 2020, from 124 in 2019, according to the report.

“Crimes like strangulation, suicide and homicide can be difficult to associate with (domestic violence) if the victim is unable to confirm it,” the report said. “Even though agencies routinely report (domestic violence) offenses, the data can still be incorrect due to the complexity of the (domestic violence) link to these crimes. “

Sollis said that “given the nature of domestic violence, reporting to law enforcement, calling hotlines for support or using victim service providers does not give the full picture of prevalence “.

“Many survivors are suffering in silence and / or trying to resolve the situation without the support of others,” Sollis said.

Nonetheless, said Sollis, “working on consistency in data collection and reporting is essential”. And investigating survivors and secondary victims should be part of that work, she said.

If changes are not made, data on domestic violence in Utah will remain incomplete, according to the report.