University of Utah researchers team up to study gender-based violence in state

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The University of Utah campus on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. A team of researchers launched the Gender-based Violence Consortium at the U. in March.

Researchers at the University of Utah are creating a resource for Utahns to see how the state has been affected by gender-based violence in recent decades and help them better address the issue in the future.

The Gender-Based Violence Consortium launched in March at the U. While it has been tricky starting during the coronavirus pandemic, Annie Isabel Fukushima, who’s the project lead and co-principal investigator, said she hopes to start piloting some of the work by spring.

Gender-based violence covers a “broad spectrum,” including domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse, dating violence, family violence and human trafficking, according to Fukushima, an assistant professor of ethnic studies. In Utah, 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence.

“It’s a phenomenon that impacts people in Utah,” she said. “We know that it happens … within our communities, and it’s a very complex issue.”

To help offer some clarity, researchers are developing interactive visualizations to show what’s been happening in Utah around gender-based violence since 1994, when the federal Violence Against Women Act was enacted.

In addition to collecting data, they’re looking how research has evolved during that time, what policies have been put in place and how community organizations have responded.

The goal, Fukushima said, is to make these tools available to the public so anyone can access them.

Researchers also are studying domestic violence during COVID-19, according to Sonia Salari, a professor in family and consumer studies. Experts worried that domestic violence rates would increase as Utah leaders implemented stay-at-home directives in the spring. During that time, crisis and advocacy organizations saw an uptick in calls.

Salari said she and others are comparing domestic violence in 2019 to 2020, looking at media reports and talking to victim advocates and police “about what they’re seeing happening.” They will also track fatalities “because that’s one thing that’s able to be measured” when “so much domestic violence happens behind closed doors,” she said.

“This is a big public health issue,” said Leslie Halpern, a professor in the dentistry school and co-director of the Women in Health, Medicine & Science program on campus.

Halpern described intimate partner violence as a “chronic, debilitating and sometimes fatal disease.” The death of her sister to intimate partner violence motivated her to become an advocate on this issue, and she said she’s excited to be part of the consortium.

No single person or department has all the answers about how to address gender-based violence, Halpern said. By bringing together multiple researchers on this project, “everybody adds something.”

The team includes experts in radiology, pediatrics, geography, sociology and business. Part of the funding for the consortium came from the One U for Utah Initiative, which encourages faculty collaborations across colleges.

Fukushima said they are also collaborating with leaders and organizations across the state focused on this topic. In October, they plan a statewide campaign during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Those who want to learn more about the consortium or become involved can contact gbvc@utah.edu.

Gender-based violence is “not a unique problem to Utah,” so Fukushima said she and her team are looking at how this issue is handled in other parts of the world. There are similar consortiums across the country that can help serve as models, she said, as Utah’s team determines “what will be useful for us.”

Editor’s note • Those who are experiencing intimate partner violence, or know someone who is, are urged to call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line, 1-800-897-LINK (5465), or the Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line, 1-888-421-1100. To report child abuse and neglect, call the Division of Child and Family Services hotline at 1-855-323-DCFS. For emergencies, call 911.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.