The number of reported domestic violence instances has increased almost 60% since February with classes hosted online and families confined to their homes.
On March 13, Gov. Gary Herbert announced that all Utah public schools would implement a two-week dismissal. Before the two weeks were up, state officials extended the dismissal into May.
Before the announcement, social distancing measures were already detailed. On March 21, the governor announced limited operations for restaurants, including the prohibition of dine-in capabilities.
Long before Herbert announced the “Stay Safe, Stay Home” initiative on Friday, Utah residents were quarantined at home after businesses braced for the pandemic by closing their doors, and colleges transferred courses online.
In February, Utah County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Spencer Cannon said, authorities responded to over 20 domestic violence calls. The next month, in March, Cannon said officials have received 37 calls with most of them resulting in arrests.
Cannon said he is unable to say whether quarantine in light of the pandemic caused the increase in calls, although Utah County law enforcement regularly see an increase in domestic violence calls in times or parts of the year where families come together.
Individuals experiencing domestic violence can be of any gender and any age, Cannon said. For families staying together in quarantine, the best way for them to avoid needing police assistance is to work proactively to de-escalate situations.
“I want to be clear, it is never the victim’s fault,” Cannon said.
Domestic violence hotlines are still in operation while social distancing measures are in place nationwide and are an accessible and safe resource for survivors.
Cannon said individuals who find themselves in a violent or abusive situation should not feel apprehensive to call police if they feel their lives are in danger. These calls can save lives, especially if made before the situation becomes too volatile.
State courts are still allowing attorneys and individuals representing themselves to file protective orders online. To ensure the process is as smooth as possible, Utah State Courts Communication Director Geoffrey Fattah said applicants should make sure all documents are completely filled out and done so in a way that court staff can read them.
Documents are required to be filled out in English, but if necessary, the Self-Help Center is ready to help individuals who do not have English as their native language. The application should be scanned and submitted in a PDF format so the entire page can be read. There are apps available on smart phones to make this possible.
Before the documents are submitted, individuals filing the application should type their name on the signature line, swearing the information in the request is true.
All protective order filings will be accepted through email until further notice to ensure social distancing measures are being followed. Site-specific emails are available on the Utah State Courts website. The email should include a subject line that reads “Protective Order or Stalking Injunction Filing for” with the applicant’s name included.
Applicants should include their contact information, including phone number and email address, within the email. Applicants can then attach the completed Request for Protective Order, or Petition for Protective Order, or Request for Civil Stalking Injunction, which can be found online, and the service assistance forms, if necessary.
Applicants also can include any supporting documents in the email, such as police reports, text messages and more.
Utah Legal Services also offers pro-bono legal help to domestic violence survivors across the state. The company’s offices are located at 455 N. University Avenue, Suite 10, Provo, but can be reached at (801) 374-6766 or toll free at 1-800-622-4245 if individuals are unable to leave their homes.