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West Valley City Journal

With community support, WVC honors Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Dec 08, 2016 03:28PM ● By Travis Barton

Silent witnesses adorned the city hall lobby as West Valley City honored Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley City capped off Domestic Violence Awareness Month with its annual Shine a Light, Be a Light program on Oct. 25 at city hall. Prior to the program, city officials—including the entire Victim Services department—held signs and balloons in front of city hall for passersby to honk and wave in their support. 

The event was commemorated with Mayor Ron Bigelow’s proclamation officially making October Domestic Violence Awareness Month. 

“We as a community must recognize the scope of this social problem and work together to create a community which does not tolerate domestic violence,” Bigelow read from the proclamation. 

Rachelle Hill, Victim Services coordinator, said the week is meant to promote awareness so “victims can be aware of resources, communities can be aware that it’s a problem and defenders can be aware it’s taken seriously.”

“Keeping domestic violence a secret only gives it more power,” Hill said during the program. 

West Valley City and its police department have aimed to make domestic violence a main priority. In 2015 WVCPD initiated a special victims unit along with the “Start by Believing” campaign, which focuses on the public’s response to sexual assault. 

WVCPD have also tackled sexual assault through the Trauma Informed Victim Interview (TIVI), where sexual assault investigators are specially trained to help victims recall their experiences. 

In 2014, Russo said 50 percent of all aggravated assaults in West Valley City were domestic violence related while that rate dropped to 36 percent in 2015.  

“What I ask from everyone is don’t stand idly by, don’t ignore this hidden problem…offer support, there is help out there,” Russo said. 

Victim Services is the city department designed to provide that next step of assistance. Hill said they need the public to refer people to their office. She added their office is sometimes associated with the police and the prosecution so people assume they’re trying to “throw their loved ones in jail.”

“Our role is to support victims wherever they are, to go over resources and let them make whatever decision is best for them,” Hill said. 

With the Start by Believing campaign and the TIVI protocol underway, Hill said the next step in helping victims is embracing the conversation. 

“I hope one day it’s a normal conversation that somebody can come to me and say ‘I’m being abused by my partner,’ and you can talk about it openly, that they have choices and options,” Hill said. “I think by removing that stigma, then we’ll be able to really make progress.” 

It’s a stigma Hill hopes will disappear over time as the next generation grows up with more awareness about the issue. 

“Kids will start to learn, ‘hey this isn’t right,’ and hopefully we’ll grow out of it,” Hill said. 

Between Oct. 24 to 27 the city hall lobby was adorned with cardboard cutouts of red silhouettes representing 52 victims of domestic violence in the community such as Kahaloni, a five-year-old girl who was killed by her mother’s husband in 2003 and Amy, 30, who had shared fears about her husband with friends and returned home to be shot and killed by him in 2002. 

“They’re real people…they were the message of nobody knew how to help,” Hill said. “I hope people take more seriously that all of this could happen, that I have a loved one and I don’t want them to be a silent witness.”

Since 2000, the Utah Department of Health Violence and Injury Prevention reported that at least 42 percent of homicides in Utah have been domestic violence related. Hill said one way to help victims is by supporting community partners such as food pantries, shelters or assisting with rent. 

“Rent is expensive so we have victims who leave, stay in shelters and then can never afford a place to get out on their own,” Hill said.