How these new laws could help survivors of domestic violence in Utah.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, law enforcement officials, state legislators and attorneys discussed implementing new legislation during a roundtable on Friday.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kent Mayne holds up a photo of his daughter Amanda as he appears before the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. Mayne and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson has supported Senate legislation to improve the state’s fight against domestic violence. Amanda “Mandy” Mayne was shot dead by her ex-husband in 2022.

Editor’s Note: This story is about sexual violence. If you need help or resources, the 24-hour Utah Sexual Violence and Information Hotline is available at 1-888-421-1100.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City wanted to convey a message to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault:

“We believe you.”

She hoped the actions she and other lawmakers took in the past legislative session to fund community-based shelters and programs would help get that point across, Romero said during a news conference Friday morning.

“It takes maybe seven times for someone to leave their abuser,” Romero said. “We as a state, as elected officials, have to be patient with people and let them know that we believe them, that they can trust us and that there is a safe space and that there is an option for them to get out of this situation .”

She stood with Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, staffers from the Office of Lt. gov. Deidre Henderson, law enforcement and attorneys at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building. The group met for the second time this year to talk about helping survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Utah.

The meeting was closed because “we work with survivors and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Romero said. “And so that confidentiality and trust is really important to respect our community-based organizations.” The press conference immediately followed the private meeting.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, listens to remarks on the first day of the Utah Legislature, Tuesday, January 17, 2023.

According to participants, during the behind-closed-doors meeting, the coalition planned to implement several key pieces of legislation passed during the 2023 session — from a domestic violence database to $15 million in ongoing appropriations and $12.5 million in Dollars in one-time funds earmarked to help domestic victims of violence and sexual assault.

support federal funds

Federal funding for providers who help victims of sexual assault and domestic violence has declined, Mendenhall said, and the state hasn’t typically provided much assistance. But that changed this year with the approximately $30 million total allocated to domestic violence services, the mayor said, which is “a phenomenal gesture, not just for the service providers, but a message to Utahns, who are victims and were victims that we love you. We want to support you and we will use the money and guidelines to give you the greatest possible support.”

(Salt Lake City Police Department) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Police Commissioner Mike Brown discuss the city’s public safety plan for the NBA All-Star Game.

In the past, service providers have had to compete for limited federal and state funds, Mendenhall said. Government funding, especially the ongoing kind, would help alleviate this pressure.

“We’ve replenished federal funding in a big way,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, “but we still have a lot of work to do to move forward and then be a step ahead.”

Change in police tactics and creation of a commission

To this end, Ivory sponsored HB 244, which established a Utah Victim Services Commission. Romero also promoted legislation to codify the definition of a rape crisis center and extended the demise date for the Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, on Tuesday, February 7, 2023, at the Salt Lake City Capitol.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown spoke about how his department planned to conduct a new program required by SB 117.

The lethality assessment program – a series of questions designed to assess the safety of a victim of domestic violence – will be fully launched in July.

Lt. gov. Henderson spoke in favor of the bill in January. Henderson’s cousin Mandy Mayne was killed by her ex-husband while waiting at a Taylorsville bus stop, the Tribune previously reported.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shauna Mayne hugs Lt. gov. Deidre Henderson after appearing before the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. Henderson and Mayne spoke in support of a Senate bill that improves the way the state combats domestic violence. Mayne’s daughter Amanda was murdered by her ex-husband in 2022. Left is Mayne’s sister Brenda Hulse Burr.

The Maynes supported the new law. When responding to cases of domestic violence between intimate partners, law enforcement officers are required to conduct a lethality assessment that includes, among other things, consideration of an individual’s “physical and mental health, family and community ties, employment status or history, and financial resources, [and] previous criminal behavior.”

The assessment would then be logged in a database.

Brown said the Salt Lake City Police Department is putting together a pilot program “so we can test the procedures and see where our weaknesses and gaps are.”

What about prevention?

“If people know there are services out there for them and they’re being treated in a culturally sensitive, trauma-informed way, then hopefully we’ll see more people reporting what’s actually happening,” Mendenhall said.

While the state took important steps to improve services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, many stakeholders noted that most of these efforts focused on response rather than prevention.

“This is really where we need to be,” Brown said. “Because if we just react, we’ve actually failed. We still have much more to do.”

The Safe Dates program is a prevention program that aims to provide “developmentally appropriate prevention education” to middle and high school students, said Erin Jemison, director of public policy at the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Erin Jemison, attorney for victims of domestic violence, joined members of the mental health community and lawmakers to announce a new online resource aimed at empowering women, parents and families in Utah Finding local resources to support Maternal Mental Health Services, February 25, 2020 at the Capitol.

“15 million launches fill the void of what programs have lost,” Jemison said. “We are incredibly grateful. We’ve never seen anything like it in terms of government support, in terms of this leadership that’s bringing us around the table.” However, she said, “This is really just the beginning if we really want to meet the need.”

The coalition plans to meet again next year. How these new laws could help survivors of domestic violence in Utah.

Justin Scaccy

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