Nearly 1 in 5 Utah women have experienced some form of physical violence involving an intimate partner, but few reached for help, a new statewide health survey has found.

The newly released data from the Utah Department of Health, based on a 2016 poll of 10,000 men and women, also demonstrate in stark terms how domestic violence affects other areas of health and quality of life.

“This is a call to action,” said Deanna Ferrell, a state Health Department violence and injury epidemiologist, who noted the latest results underscore a dire need for spending more resources on domestic-violence outreach efforts to reduce stigma surrounding the issue.

Utahns who reported experiencing physical domestic violence in their lifetimes — such as being hit, slapped, pushed or kicked — are more than three times as likely to be everyday smokers. They are nearly twice as likely to have a binge drinking habit. And they miss more days of work than those who have never experienced such violence at home.

Domestic violence affects health outcomes

A Utah Department of Health survey found those who had experienced intimate partner violence also had higher rates of other health problems.

Every Day Smoker Binge Drinker Poor Health Missing 7+ Days of Work or Activities 7+ Poor Mental Health Days Difficulty Doing Errands Alone Difficulty Concentrating or Remembering

Source: 2016 Utah Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey on intimate partner violence. Respondents 18 and over.

Some 18 percent of Utah women and 10 percent of men surveyed reported having gone through partner violence, the questionnaire found. Yet fewer than 15 percent of those people said they had sought help after being harmed.

Respondents often said they declined to seek help because they thought the abuse would stop; feared the perpetrator would find out; or they worried their children might be taken away from them.

Officials also warned that Utah’s problems with violence by intimate partners might be significantly worse than the questionnaire results indicate.

A national survey conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2010 and 2012, for example, found a third of Utah women — an estimated 323,000 people — had been victims of partner violence, including nonphysical aggression such as stalking.

The same CDC report said nearly 27 percent of Utah women — or a quarter-million state residents — had been victims of physical violence alone.

Jennifer Campbell, executive director of South Valley Services, a domestic-violence shelter and resource center in West Jordan, said it’s inherently difficult to nail down precise numbers on partner violence.

People might be unsure of what’s happening to them, she said, and hesitant to label it as domestic violence. They might not feel comfortable sharing such intimate details of their life — especially if they are still living with the perpetrator.

“I would imagine the number is higher,” Campbell said of counts on domestic-violence victims in Utah, adding the Department of Health’s survey is nevertheless “a good start” toward developing more comprehensive baseline numbers.

Domestic violence and its health effects are notoriously hard to track and research even after survivors seek help at a shelter, she said, partly due to strict confidentiality requirements.

The Health Department survey highlights the need to examine the various ways domestic violence victims in Utah can get help, Campbell said, and what happens when they do.

Seeking assistance doesn’t necessarily have to mean immediately leaving the abuser, she said, or calling the police. Only about a third of those who arrive at South Valley Services are seeking immediate shelter; the remainder are looking for supportive services, Campbell said, and it’s important more women realize that’s an available option.

“It’s a pretty big deal to leave [a partner] to go get help,” Campbell said.

Domestic violence in Utah

The Utah Department of Health surveyed about 10,000 Utah adults about whether they had experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. Here are their findings, broken down by demographic group.

Overall Male Female Annual household income less than $25,000 Did not graduate high school College graduate Married Divorced Separated Employed Unemployed Straight Bisexual

Source: 2016 Utah Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey on intimate partner violence. Respondents 18 and over.

The Health Department survey also draws a strong connection between traumatic childhood experiences and intimate partner violence later in life.

Half of Utah adults who said they had gone through an incidence of intimate partner violence also said they had at least four childhood traumas, such as physical and emotional abuse, witnessing substance abuse in the home, or going through a divorce. On the flip side, only about 13 percent of those surveyed who had experienced partner violence as adults reported they had never had a traumatic childhood episode.

It is striking to see in the data how “tremendous of an impact” those stressful childhood experiences can have over the course of a lifetime, said Megan Waters, a violence prevention specialist with the Department of Health.

“It’s just a matter of increasing vulnerability,” Waters said. “Once you’ve experienced violence, you are more susceptible to more violence, repeat violence.”

The survey results also show that focusing on the mental health of children should be part of the equation in preventing domestic violence, Waters said.

And the results point starkly to the broad range of poor health outcomes that victims of intimate violence face in other aspects of their lives. In addition to having a higher likelihood of being a heavy drinker and smoker, victims were nearly three times more likely to report having overall “poor health,” according to the survey.

Nearly 22 percent of victims said they had missed at least a week of work in the past month, and roughly 33 percent said they had experienced more than a week of poor mental health. Those numbers were almost twice as high as those for survey respondents who had never experienced domestic violence.

Such diminished health outcomes are likely tied to victims feeling a “heightened state, every day, of survival,” Campbell said.

“They’re all coping,” she said. “Some are [doing it] in a healthy way; some are in an unhealthy way. But they’re all finding ways to cope from immense trauma.”

Survey results will inform the state’s domestic violence prevention efforts, Waters said, in part by helping officials identify and target groups of people especially at risk — such as the unemployed, those who are bisexual, and the less educated.

Another survey is planned this year, Ferrell said, as part of biennial polling on the topic in hopes of tracking trends.

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.