Criminal charges related to domestic violence in Utah have risen 19.6% since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to state district courts data.
How much of the increase is related to consequences of the pandemic has not been quantified, but the numbers appear to underscore anecdotal assessments offered by prosecutors and crisis shelter operators.
With a public records request, the Standard-Examiner obtained data from the state courts system on crimes flagged with a domestic violence component.
Those offenses include aggravated murder, murder, aggravated assault, assault, kidnapping and unlawful detention.
The data covered charges filed in Utah district courts from April 1 through Nov. 30 this year, compared to filings from the same period in 2019.
Statewide, prosecutors filed 2,461 domestic violence charges this year, compared to 2,058 in 2019.
They filed another 3,186 violence-related charges not involving domestic conflicts through November this year, a 1.1% increase over the year before.
Domestic violence charges climbed 46.6% in Weber County, according to the state data — 151 compared to 103.
Davis County’s filings were up 8%, 112 to 121.
At least one deadly incident in Ogden this year arose from a domestic violence call.
Ogden Officer Nate Lyday was killed on May 28 by shots fired by a man from inside a home where Lyday and other officers were responding to a domestic trouble report.
In addition to an increase in incidents this year, the degree of violence and the ongoing risk to victims has worsened, crisis shelter advocates say.
“We have noticed an intensity in the cases,” said Glady Larsen, development director for Safe Harbor Crisis Center in Kaysville.
Factors gauged in the lethality assessment protocol tool used by police and those who run shelters “have increased dramatically from what we have seen in the past,” Larsen said.
In Ogden, similar effects are seen at Your Community Connection Family Crisis Center.
Case referrals invoking the lethality protocol jumped from 70 in the first three months of 2020 to 131 in the second quarter as the pandemic took hold, said Margaret Rose, YCC executive director.
“The pandemic didn’t cause domestic violence,” Rose said. “There’s correlation, not causation.”
Calls to YCC’s crisis lines “went off the charts the first few months of the pandemic,” Rose said.
“We’ve seen an increase and then a plateau — high demand and high risk, and they have stayed high,” she said.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said his office has not statistically analyzed the domestic violence caseload trend, but prosecutors believe the pandemic has played a role.
“We’re seeing dynamics when people are under stress,” he said. “Financial, economic stress, they’re under-employed, hours being cut.”
Stress is further increased by people “simply being around each other” more, Rawlings said.
Also, people may turn to “substances and self-medicating,” he said.
Meanwhile, things never seem to get easier for domestic violence victims and the people who try to help them.
Rose said YCC has been told to brace for a potential 25% cut in funds from the federal Victims of Crime Act.
That would be a $200,000 hit to YCC’s budget at a time when services are needed more than ever, Rose said.
VOCA is funded by monetary penalties from federal criminal prosecutions. Prosecutors are deferring more prosecutions and reaching non-prosecution agreements instead, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.