Michelle Quist: What can be done about the prevalence of domestic violence in Utah?

Believe women. Get the guns out of your house. Promote gender equality.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The caskets of Tausha Haight and her five children, Macie Lynn, 17, Briley Ann, 12, Ammon Michael, 7, Sienna Belle, 7, and Gavin Drew, 4, at the La Verkin Cemetery after a graveside service for the family, Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.

A few weeks after a Utah man fatally shot his estranged wife — she had filed for divorce — their five kids and his mother-in-law before killing himself, we found out his oldest daughter had reported him for child abuse. Specifically, his daughter “detailed multiple assaults, including one where she was choked by her father.”

She told police “her father’s violence started in 2017 and had included choking and shaking, including a recent episode in which he grabbed her by the shoulders and banged her into a wooden piece along the back of the couch.”

The police decided she was just a “mouthy” teenager. Imagine the scene. Small town. Priesthood leader, joking around with the local police chief about his mouthy daughter and insubordinate wife, denying the claims that he belittled his wife, closing the door, turning around and demanding that wifey get dinner on the table and that it better be hot.

People involved in a domestic violence attack involving choking are 750% more likely to be killed by their offender in the next year, according to Gail Star of the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners.

Just ask Gabby Petito. Oh wait. You can’t. Because she was choked to death.

For those who have been choked or strangled in a domestic violence attack and are still alive to tell about it — they count themselves lucky every day.

In 2019, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition executive director estimated that for every woman killed by domestic violence, another eight or nine women are almost killed.

But what can be done about the high prevalence of domestic violence in Utah? Do we just keep sitting around and waiting for the next domestic violence attack to happen? What will make a difference? Here are a few ideas:

1. Believe women. Full stop.

Do you know how many men (and women) Tausha Haight and her daughter Macie must have told about their eventual murderer’s mental, emotional, and physical abuse? Likely too many to count. Too many people were OK with that family enduring that abuse, all in an effort to keep the family “together.” What an abomination.

Believe women when they’re telling you they’re being abused. And get them help away from their abusers.

2. Get guns out of your homes.

Guns are too accessible, and women are dying because of it. I’m not saying pass legislation to get guns out of your homes. I’m not saying outlaw guns. I’m saying voluntarily get guns out of your homes. Have an anger problem? Don’t pair it with a recreational gun hobby. Or, if you have such a hobby, keep your guns elsewhere.

3. Promote gender parity. Everywhere.

We need more women in leadership — in police forces, in church leadership, in government, and at work. Everywhere we turn women report to men. And men still aren’t listening to women. It’s not even that men aren’t listening — men literally sometimes don’t even hear women. If Macie Haight had reported to a female police chief that she had been choked by her father, would she be alive today? Who knows. But it’s worth the experiment. We need more women in positions of power at every level. Otherwise, the systemic misogyny will remain.

4. Pass domestic violence legislation.

We need legislation with teeth. We have a start this year with SB117, which Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson also supports. The bill would create a police database of domestic violence incidents as well as require that police ask certain questions at every incident to determine potential danger, including a lethality assessment.

Like I said, a database is a start. Police need good information in order to act. But most domestic violence abusers aren’t repeat offenders. Some are, sure. So it would be good for police to have shared information. But would a database have forced the police chief in Enoch, Utah, to arrest Macie’s dad for choking her? Would it have helped the family escape from his violence two years ago?

We need more funding for better training. We need better men in positions of power. We need women in positions of power.

Or, how about, men just stop killing women. Let’s start there.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Michelle Quist.

Michelle Quist is an attorney practicing in Salt Lake City and a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.