Tribune Editorial: Utah's high rate of domestic violence homicide is unacceptable

(Courtesy of GoFundMe) Memorez Rackley.

Utah’s homicide rate is one of the lowest in the nation. But for Utah women in relationships, there is still a heightened threat. Domestic-violence-related deaths account for approximately 30 percent of murders across the nation.

In Utah, it’s 44 percent. And women are the most likely victims.

When a woman’s intimate partner has a gun, the homicide risk from domestic violence increases 500 percent.

Like Memorez Rackley and her son Jase, who were shot in the middle of a Sandy street by a man Rackley had briefly dated. According to an unofficial Salt Lake Tribune database, 26 others also died because of domestic violence last year.

Utah’s narrow definition of domestic violence limits police prevention of such incidents. In order for police to respond aggressively to a domestic violence claim, a woman needs to have been married to, or living with, the man who is threatening her.

The Legislature could broaden the definition of domestic violence to include partners who had a sexual relationship together. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, and Rep. Romero Angela, D-Salt Lake City, have introduced a bill to do just that in the 2018 legislative session.

The Legislature could also fund training to bring awareness to the issue statewide – a preventive, instead of a reactive, strategy to end domestic violence.

Jenn Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, says that in Utah, the “most likely murder scenario is going to be perpetrated by someone you know and love. That’s very scary.”

Barriers exist that make it difficult to spot the lethality of a domestic violence threat. Women don’t like to admit they feel unsafe or have been threatened, likely because it is embarrassing. Also, victims often times don’t realize the danger they’re in. It’s hard to imagine that a person you were intimate with will harm you physically.

Brian Parnell, the domestic violence program administrator with the Department of Human Services, warned, “Women honestly don’t know that they’re in danger of being murdered.”

After the Rackley murders, the Sandy police department has updated its practices and policies regarding domestic violence threats to include people in intimate relationships, not just those who meet the state definition of domestic violence. Departments statewide should be doing the same.

Utah’s rate of domestic violence deaths has been high for over 20 years. We are either not admitting we have a problem, or we’re not addressing it.

We need to do both.