Downtown Construction 1

Construction workers work on the steps of the Historic Utah County Court House building in Provo on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald

Domestic violence has increased by nearly a quarter in Utah County in the past year, according to data from the crime victim services unit of the Utah County Attorney’s Office.

Katie Fox, a victim and witness coordinator, told the Utah County Commission on Wednesday the increase in domestic violence cases is likely a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unfortunately, we have seen a 24% increase in domestic violence cases so far this year,” Fox said during Wednesday’s public meeting. “Since March of this year, with the pandemic, we had to prepare over 250 protective orders or no-contact orders for domestic violence and sexual assault victims.”

Additionally, this year, there has been an increase in calls to the county crime victim services unit, which offers resources to victims of physical and sexual abuse, child abuse and domestic violence.

“We have also seen a 15% increase in calls through September of this year, and will still have more time to go,” the victim witness coordinator added.

This is not the first evidence of increases in domestic violence seemingly as a result of the pandemic.

Back in March, weeks after Gov. Gary Herbert announced coronavirus-related closures and restrictions, Utah County officials said the number of reported domestic violence instances had increased 60% since February.

Victim services in Utah County are funded by the county and through the federal Victims of Crime Act Grant. The unit, which Fox described as “severely understaffed,” currently has two full-time employees paid for by the county and one unfilled VOCA grant employee position.

Even though jury trials in Utah have been temporarily suspended during the pandemic, Fox pointed out that “this has not stopped our workload from increasing.”

She added the victim services unit is trying to implement a volunteer program and is currently “working hard to find volunteers that can assist us in our roles.”

“But they cannot make up or replace a trained victim coordinator to assist them through this process,” she said.

Staffing and workload were concerns of the victim services unit even before the pandemic.

In November 2019, witness coordinator Jami Barzee told the County Commission that she and her colleagues were “increasingly busy and are struggling to keep up with the demands that are required of us.”

“Despite our best efforts to assist all victims of crimes whose cases are received by the Utah County Attorney’s Office, we are only reaching the tip of the iceberg,” Barzee said last November.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioner Nathan Ivie said he hoped the county could “continue to find ways to provide services” to victims.

“Obviously these are unique times,” he said.

For more information about victims services in Utah County, residents can visit http://www.utahcounty.gov/Dept/Atty/VictimServices/index.asp.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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