What happens when brave women make waves in their communities

Story and photos by HANNAH CHRISTENSEN


Matapuna Levenson and reporter Hannah Christensen at the SLC Family Justice Center, YWCA.

Pacific Island (PI) women who experience domestic violence often feel powerless, helpless and alone because the American idea of rugged individualism contradicts the ideals of PI collectivism.

Matapuna Levenson, Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center at the YWCA lead guide and advocate, said, “When intimate partner violence occurs, somebody is making you believe that you are not powerful. We need to go back to remembering and believing in ourselves both as individuals and as a people, that we are powerful. We’re resilient, we’re here, we’re alive.” Those of PI descent embody this power and strength through honoring and remembering where they have come from.

Levenson spoke to how this deep connection with their ancestral and cultural roots is sacred to the PI community. They have passed down many traditions, beliefs and ways of living that provide a stark contrast from the colonized white world of America.

Leata Puailoa Hunt is an advocate against domestic abuse. She is a native of Samoa who now lives in Draper, Utah. “In our true culture, high chiefs honor their wives and treat them like queens and then all the daughters in a home are treated like princesses. We keep them in a sacred status,” she said.

Historically, women of the Pacific Islands were in positions of power and held in high regard. Today they are raised to be strong matriarchs. “The good thing about our culture,” Hunt explained, “is we’re trained as girls growing up to be mothers already, we can cook, we can clean, we can solve problems, we can do this. We are independent and we can carry a family, but also at the same time I love that we train our men to respect our women.”

While many PI communities continue to treat women with reverence, something switched when patriarchal systems were introduced to the islands. Levenson, with the YWCA, said, “I’m going to blame patriarchy, because it’s not just white capitalists. Whenever there is an opportunity to have power and control over individual groups or communities, they’re going to do it. And it’s typically men, that’s just history. We have to combat and oppose this historical power.”

Levenson explained how indigenous PI communities did not have these complex power dynamics. A well-known Samoan proverb, “Ó le fogāv’a e tasi,” translates to, “The canoe has one deck.” This is the PI mentality at its best. Everyone is on the same boat, striving toward the same goal, together as equals. It wasn’t until power dynamics were introduced that the canoe became difficult to navigate.

Both Levenson and Hunt spoke about how the hierarchy of power was introduced to PI culture and the result was individualistic thinking. The clash of the collectivist community ideals and the egocentric mentality results in a lot of confusion, cognitive dissonance and anger. This is one underlying reason that domestic violence is happening within PI communities. The contradiction here is that because of the deep-seated beliefs, everyone works together for the greater good of all, and rather than challenge the systemic problem, it is best to ignore or not speak out when there is violence in the home.

Not feeling able to speak out about abuse also stems from the strong PI beliefs in families and family unification, because it is important to protect the family name. Hunt said “a family will hide secrets, like abuse or domestic violence, you know, things that are going on that shouldn’t be going on, that’s actually another key factor because of the family name. They hide it or sweep it under the rug and go forth as a perfect family that has a title.” Hiding these secrets within families is sometimes the only way a family can keep their titles and status in the community.


A Samoan newspaper featured Leata Puailoa Hunt in the 2015 Miss Oceana Pageant in Sydney, Australia.

Hunt recalled how there was much less tolerance for abuse in Samoa than there was in American Samoa. “If someone is abusive or commits adultery, they will be fined by the village and if it was really extreme, they would be banished from the village,” she said.

Hunt is an advocate for those who have been abused because she lived through her sister’s domestic violence abuse. “There’s no excuse for it no matter what. I know from my personal upbringing, it is not part of our culture, it is not taught on our homeland.” Hunt advocated for domestic abuse survivors as a contestant in the 2015 Miss Oceana Pageant in Sydney, Australia.

There are many resources in Utah for victims and survivors of domestic violence within the PI community. Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR) is one of them. Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, co-founder of PIK2AR, started the organization with her husband, Simi Poteki Malohifo’ou. He and other men wanted to get involved with the domestic violence issue in the community. Feltch-Malohifo’ou said of the men who started this group, “They came together because they recognized that there is a problem.” She has been an advocate for women because she herself is a survivor of domestic violence.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou coordinates many programs to provide support for PI women. These programs provide a safe space for them to share their experiences. The YWCA also focuses on empowering women and connecting them with resources. Levenson, who grew up in a domestically abusive home, shared, “I asked a survivor once, ‘What do you need to feel more comfortable in sharing your story?’ And she said very quickly and naturally, ‘I just need to hear other people share theirs.’ And that’s it exactly.”

Additional resources can be found on the Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center’s website, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition website and the Utah 2-1-1 website. Women also can dial 2-1-1 for help and connection to resources.



Utah Domestic Violence Council aims to help Asian American women


It was common practice for emotional and physical violence to be prevalent among Asian families living in their home country. When Asians started to migrate east to the US, the abuse followed.

“The majority of participants believed that domestic violence against women stems from a legacy of patriarchy and sexism that is widespread in many Asian-American communities,” wrote Sujata Warrier, Ph.D, in the report, “(Un) heard Voices: Domestic Violence in the Asian American Community.

Warrier, who serves on the boards of numerous groups, including the Asian American Institute on Domestic Violence and the National Network on Behalf of Battered Immigrant Women, wrote that due to this patriarchy, “Women are socialized to believe and accept that violence in a relationship is acceptable, that male power expressed abusively is part of the cultural milieu, and therefore batterers are not held accountable for their behavior in their own communities.”

According to Speaking the Unspeakable: Marital Violence among South Asian Immigrants in the United States by Margaret Abraham, cultural milieu is a form of control. The victim is isolated from society. Their abuser strictly monitors all of the incoming communication. The information the victim receives by the abuser is limited, if not false, which promotes the cult-like regulation and full subordination.

A consequence of cultural milieu is victims’ self-esteem. They begin to integrate their treatment into their self-worth. They feel less valuable, intellectually inferior and sub-human.

“In the Asian communities emotional control, respect for authority, self-blame, perseverance and the acceptance of suffering are considered highly valued virtues and traits,” said Hildegard Koenig, diversity coordinator at the Utah Domestic Violence Council, in an e-mail interview.

“Those culturally based responses,” Koenig said, “contribute to their unwillingness or hesitance to express their victimization, even to people inside of a close circle of friends or family.”

Linda K. Oda, director of Asian Affairs at the Office of Ethnic Affairs in Salt Lake City, said, “Domestic violence in Asian-American communities places a mark on the family if reported.”

Contacting the proper authorities has shown to be a difficult task for Asian Americans. If these victims contact the proper authorities, it could end up being either constructive or catastrophic.

The decision by the victim to make constructive choices could produce many positive outcomes. The victim would leave a paper trail of the abuse, records of injuries and other documentation, and make authorities aware of the situation. The goal would be for the victim to obtain assistance to safely separate themselves from their abuser, according to the report, “(Un) heard Voices: Domestic Violence in the Asian American Community.” The report offers the victim resources to support her decision to leave her abuser.

The catastrophic effects of their decision to contact the authorities could cause irreversible damage and overall fear of local and federal government, according to the report. The most common would be the racism displayed by the responders.  This act could not only negatively impact the victim, but also the aggressor, possibly adding to the situation.

Utah Domestic Violence Council aims to aid members of Asian community affected by abuse

The Utah Domestic Violence Council works with many women's shelters, including the YWCA in Salt Lake City.

Story and photo by DANA IGO

Kenneth Warhola arrived at his Layton home Sept. 8 to find his wife locked in their children’s room. After several attempts to persuade her to open the door he broke it down. She was sitting next to the couple’s two children, Jean, 7, and James, 8, who were covered with a sheet and unresponsive. His wife, Sun Cha Warhola, 44, is charged with strangling them to death.

As the information came out in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, it was learned that disputes between Sun Cha Warhola and her husband had been ongoing for more than four years.

According to the Tribune, Kenneth Warhola was charged with domestic violence in 2007. In another incident both Warholas were charged after an altercation in a parking lot. One report just weeks before the murders showed that Sun Cha Warhola alleged that her husband had sexually abused their children. The Davis County Attorney’s office reviewed the case and determined the accusations were unsubstantiated, as reported by the Tribune.

The Deseret News wrote that before the murders, Sun Cha Warhola called a Korean newspaper in a desperate attempt for help. She told Inseon Cho Kim, director of the Korean Times of Utah, that she dreaded leaving her husband with their children in the event of a divorce.

While all women have difficulty coming forward to get help for domestic abuse, women in the Asian community face a particular quandary. Prevention and educational programs on domestic crime aren’t targeted to Asian women. A report published by the National Asian Women’s Health Organization suggested that this is because society tends to view the Asian population as a “model minority,” meaning that they are viewed as achieving high rates of success.

Asian women have the lowest rate of domestic violence of any of the major racial groups. A small number of Asian and Pacific Islander women, 12.8 percent, reported having experienced physical assault by a partner at least once in their lifetime, according to a study published by the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence. This was the lowest percentage among any racial class surveyed, which was cited by experts as being due to underreporting.

The unwillingness to come forward in cases of domestic violence among Asian women may also be perpetuated by culture.

Dr. Linda Oda, director of Asian Affairs at the Utah Office of Ethnic Affairs, said that abuse in Asian families isn’t often reported because their cultural values tend to stress keeping things within the family.

Unlike Western culture, traditional Eastern culture puts emphasis on the family instead of the individual, leaving Asian women feeling less inclined to report physical and domestic abuse.

The Utah Domestic Violence Council (UDVC), 205 N. 400 West, a nonprofit organization with resources throughout the state, is reaching out to the underserved communities across Utah in an effort to prevent future domestic crimes. In preparation for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, the council’s diversity coordinator, Hildegard Koenig, provided information to the Asian Advisory Council so its eleven members could pass it to their respective communities. She approached the council because it connects the Asian community with Oda and her office.

“By working and educating community leaders and building those strong relationships we can start a dialogue on how we can better assist victims of domestic violence in their communities,” Koenig said.

Sometimes the educational materials fall short. Salman Masud, the council’s representative of the Pakistani community, said the materials offered by the UDVC were only written in a few languages, which narrows the ability of non-English speaking Asian immigrants and refugees to know whom to contact in a domestic abuse situation. Currently the brochures are offered in seven languages, including Chinese, Tongan and Samoan. Koenig is seeking individuals to help translate the material into other languages.

Non-English speakers can call The Utah Domestic Violence Link Line, 800-897-LINK (5465). The hotline is currently available in 144 languages, making it a good resource for members of all communities who may not be able to get the printed materials in his or her language.  Many of the UDVC‘s resources can be accessed online, including special reports, training materials and a map of domestic violence programs throughout the state.

Domestic violence is devastating to children


Domestic violence is not just a problem for adults. It has an even greater impact on children, a group that cannot seek help for themselves or call attention to their issues.

“Children often experience the same abuse and trauma as battered women do, but children don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with the trauma that their mothers do,” said Mindy Simon, director of Children’s Services for the YWCA.

The number of children who have been victimized from domestic abuse in Utah is at an all-time high, according to the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office. Yet the state has few programs to help with this ever-growing problem. Like many other Utahns, Lisa is struggling to find help for her children who have been abused and victimized.

Lisa, who asked that her last name not be revealed for safety reasons, sought services from the YWCA after years of suffering in an abusive relationship. Lisa has two boys, ages 7 and 10, who also suffered verbal and physical abuse — much more abuse than Lisa realized.

“After I got the boys to talk about the stuff they went through, they told me a lot of stuff that I didn’t think they overheard and sometimes even went through themselves. I had no idea the extent of what they experienced. I always thought I kept them out of it, but with this situation I guess that’s impossible,” Lisa said.

Lisa’s abusive boyfriend had a drinking problem, which led him to become much angrier and physically abusive than he was when he was sober. At first he began to isolate Lisa and emotionally manipulate her. Once Lisa was feeling alone, her boyfriend became physically violent. At first it was just Lisa, but then her boyfriend started being physically abusive with her young boys. That was Lisa’s final indication to leave.

“I should have left much earlier. But I thought I could handle it. Once it turned to my kids though, I knew I had to leave. I couldn’t let them go through what I had been going through for years,” Lisa said.

Once Lisa removed herself and her two boys from the abusive relationship, she had some problems finding places for her boys to get help.

“There are a ton of places for women to get help,” she said. “The YWCA and lots of state programs, but there aren’t that many programs for children that have suffered from domestic violence. I mean someone has to look out for these kids; they can’t get help for themselves like adults can. I think that makes their problems even worse than the problems of women of domestic abuse.”

The YWCA does offer some limited child services and programs, including childcare for children from six weeks to kindergarten age. But no such service is available for children over that age. Simon acknowledges that even the YWCA could use some improvements to its child services.

“As an organization, we are slowly realizing the enormity of the impact that domestic abuse has on children,” Simon said. “We are constantly redeveloping our child services and programs to better serve these children, especially young children, but we can’t fulfill all of their needs. We offer child services and refer them to counselors, but at this point, that’s all we can really do. Although I do realize that this is a huge problem, every child that comes through here is facing a set of obstacles.”

Jennifer Edwards, a Salt Lake resident, also faced issues with her 3-year-old daughter Maya. Edwards’ ex-husband emotionally abused Maya during a prolonged custody battle. Edwards was unsure of how to help Maya.

“I wasn’t sure that counseling could help a child so young, but I didn’t have another option so I tried counseling, and it turned out to be a huge success. It really helped Maya,” Edwards said.

Edwards is a low-income Utahn who received legal help from the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake. This nonprofit organization provided her with free to low-cost legal assistance in dealing with her custody battle and other legal issues with her ex-husband. She got help with her legal needs, but there wasn’t an agency to help with Maya’s issues. Edwards had to cope with Maya’s issues on her own, which was difficult to do, considering all of the other problems she was facing while dealing with her ex-husband.

Edwards is just one of many facing a similar problem. In a national survey of more than 6,000 American families conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, between 53 percent and 70 percent of males who abused their wives also frequently abused their children. One study demonstrated that some fathers deliberately arrange for their children to witness the violence.

This violence often creates an array of problems for the child victims. Not only do they suffer physically, but they also suffer greater emotional and mental damage than adults who suffer the same abuse. Child psychologists are in agreement that abuse occurring to children and adolescents when their brains are in critical development stages results in more permanent and lasting damage than an adult with a fully developed brain.

According to the APA, the symptoms of abuse often include social withdrawal and deterioration of trust; children will isolate themselves and refuse to talk about their traumatic experiences. This results in children being even more unnoticed and therefore receiving less help.

Utah has multiple programs that offer different kinds of assistance to adults, especially women, who suffer from domestic abuse. However, only one program offers any semblance of assistance to children.

The Utah Division of Child and Family Services Web site gives a phone number for people who need help with domestic violence and their children. This line gives references to counseling, shelter and other services. Aside from that resource, this agency doesn’t offer any other assistance to children.

“I guess the state figures it’s the non-abusive parent’s responsibility to take care of all of their kid’s needs,” Lisa said. “And while that parent probably could under normal circumstances, it’s really hard when they’re trying to deal with everything else. If you’re anything like me, then you have your own problems from the abuse and you have to work out a bunch of stuff like where you’re going to go, how you’re going to be a single mom and provide financially for the kids, and legal stuff. It’s really too much to handle without help.” 

Lisa’s boys are still struggling with the effects of their abuse. The boys are doing worse in school; Lisa’s youngest is becoming more withdrawn and isolated and the oldest is starting to act out and lose his temper. Lisa has begun to take them to counseling and hopes that it will help, but it is difficult to afford without assistance.

“I know that counseling will help them. The question is how long I can afford to keep taking them there,” Lisa said.

Finding her way out


It seemed fun and exciting. Meeting someone online, chatting for some time, greeting him when he traveled from Utah to Australia for a visit. This woman had fallen in love.

Harmony, who asked that her full name not be used for safety and legal reasons, was 36 at the time. She had two daughters, ages 6 and 9. The small family moved from Australia to Utah where she and her fiancé were soon married.

But the fun and excitement quickly vanished. Harmony was about to find out what kind of man he really was.

“He was a master of manipulation,” she said. “He conditioned me and then reinforced it throughout the marriage.”

Harmony and her husband were married for just over two years. During that time, he belittled her and ignored her daughters.

“He never physically hit them but he played mind games and ignored them. When I wasn’t there, he wouldn’t feed them or pay any attention to them,” she said.

He mostly abused Harmony emotionally and psychologically but that all changed in February 2007.

“He grabbed her arm and threw her on the bed and then began to hit her on the left side of her head,” said Marlene Gonzalez, Harmony’s attorney from the Multi-Cultural Legal Center. “He continued to hit her until she saw a bright light and became dizzy.”

Harmony and her daughters were eventually able to escape the room where he was holding them and went to a trusted neighbor. She called police and they started investigating. Julie Johansen, a Murray City Crime Victim Advocate, was called to the scene shortly after and began speaking with Harmony.

“I spoke with her and gave her information on where she could go to get help for domestic violence,” Johansen said. “I also went through the signs with her and showed her that it was definitely abuse. I told her that he would come back and try to apologize and make things better.”

After the attack, Harmony’s husband overdosed on medications he used for his bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. He was admitted to the psychiatric ward after the overdose and was there for a couple days.

During that time, Harmony went to the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake (LAS) and obtained a protective order. He was served and told to stay away from Harmony and her daughters.

“After he received the protective order, he called me 17 to 20 times. I had to unplug all the phones in the house,” Harmony said.

He didn’t stop there. A couple days after the incident, Harmony was on the phone with the police when she heard someone at the door. She could see him through the window above the door; he was holding flowers and ready to apologize, just as Johansen had predicted.

“I told the police that he was at the door. They told me to not open the door and they were on the way. He went around the back but since he’s a bigger guy, he couldn’t get his arm through the gate,” she said.

He left but returned to remove the price tag from the flowers he left behind. By that time the police showed up and took him to jail. After a couple weeks, he violated the protection order yet again and was back in jail.

Harmony went to LAS to obtain a divorce. She obtained her protective order there but when she went for the divorce, she overestimated her income and was not able to receive help. Her friend helped her and took her down to the 3rd District courthouse in West Jordan, Utah, where Harmony was able to file for divorce online. She continued to help her estranged husband, though.

“Harmony had been going to counseling with her LDS bishop,” said Marlene Gonzalez, Harmony’s attorney. “Her bishop asked if she needed help finding a new home. All she wanted was for him to help her estranged husband find a place to stay after the divorce. She didn’t have any family here. She used the people who had become family to help him. She was very unselfish.”

Two weeks after the divorce, Harmony’s ex-husband was married for the third time. Harmony had been his second wife. The harassment didn’t stop after he remarried. Not only did he start sending harassing e-mails to Harmony, so did his wife. The police couldn’t do anything about her e-mails because there wasn’t proof he had told her to send those.

After 18 months Harmony had not heard from her ex-husband or his new wife. She says she is working as a business systems analyst and her daughters, now 13 and 10, are doing well.

“Harmony is an amazing woman. Statistics show that it usually takes eight or 10 times of being abused before someone gets out. She got out the first time,” Johansen said.

Abuse victim gets out, rebuilds life


Shauna Lewis is at a wonderful stage of her life. She’s a 32-year-old, beautiful, longhaired, dark-eyed woman with a radiant smile and an incredibly contagious laugh that can lighten even the darkest of conversations. She loves her job and has been awarded two promotions in the short time she’s been there. She lives in a cute two-story town home and feels very blessed by her success. Her four beautiful children are the pride and joy of her life and like any loving mother, she’s been devoted to protecting them.

However, Lewis has also been to hell and back to get where she is today.

You’d never know by looking at Lewis that she has experienced years of depression; she lost a former boyfriend to suicide and was the victim of domestic violence episodes staggered over a seven-year period.

Remarkably, Lewis has let these experiences shape her into a strong and independent woman. While she says the repercussions of these events still linger and resurface in different areas of her life, she has an optimist’s attitude about her past, as well as the future for herself and her children.

Lewis said she first started taking anti-depressant medication regularly after the father of her son committed suicide. Her son was 1 at the time.

“He had a serious on-going issue with drugs and alcohol, and it just finally took its toll,” Lewis said. “I was heartbroken.”

She endured several emotionally difficult months, but said she put all her strength into being a good mother to her child. She relied on friends and family to get through the aftereffects of what had happened and eventually started dating again.

Lewis first met her husband-to-be at a popular Utah bar when she was 21. She immediately liked his sense of humor and charm. She was flattered that he was also interested in her.

Lewis had been shattered emotionally from the death of her son’s father and was wary about getting involved with someone new. She worried that her son would get attached to someone she dated, and then she would have to explain to him that he couldn’t see that person anymore because the relationship had ended.

Lewis took her time carefully getting to know this new man and eventually, their relationship became serious.

“We never really dated,” Lewis said. “We just hung out a lot and became best friends and fell in love at the same time. Our relationship just sort of happened.”

The two only dated a few months before marrying when Lewis was 22. Lewis felt like she had found her fairytale prince in the charming and hard-working 24-year-old. She was excited to start a new chapter of her life with him.

Soon after marrying, Lewis learned she was pregnant with another son. She and her husband began planning for the addition to their family.

During her pregnancy, things began to change.

When Lewis was seven months pregnant, her husband pushed her. It was the first time he had ever put his hands on her in a violent manner. Lewis was shocked, scared and heartbroken. He apologized for getting physical with her and begged for her forgiveness. Lewis forgave him and the two agreed to start over.

But not long after that incident, he pushed Lewis again, this time causing her to fall down. According to Lewis, he apologized countless times and sobbed desperately. She again forgave him.

In an article about domestic violence published by the FBI in 1997, author Lt. Douglas Marvin says this is typical of abusive relationships.

“The batterer may be genuinely sorry for the pain he has caused his partner,” the article states. “He acts out of his greatest fear — that his partner will leave him. He attempts to make up for his brutal behavior and believes that he can control himself and never again hurt the woman he loves.”

According to Lewis, her husband wouldn’t change.

Contrary to his repeated promises, Lewis said the abuse continued and got gradually worse with every episode. Lewis wore long sleeves and jeans to cover her bruises and tried to keep what was happening under everyone’s radar.

“I knew it was wrong and that it needed to stop,” she said. “I just felt trapped. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”

Lewis was also subjected to extreme emotional and mental abuse from her husband. According to Lewis, he talked down to her and called her names. He became increasingly jealous, controlling and manipulative, and put a stranglehold on Lewis’s freedom and decision-making abilities.

When the two first married, Lewis said her husband gave her the option to stay at home and raise their children. However, one son and two daughters later, his desire had turned into her obligation.

“I wasn’t allowed to have a job, or really anything of my own.  It was just another way for him to control me,” Lewis said.

Because Lewis didn’t have a job, every purchase she made had to be cleared by her husband. Even things like the utility bills, groceries and medicine for their children had to be approved, she said.

Alma Perez, a paralegal at Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake who helped Lewis with her divorce, said she immediately noticed the ex-husband’s feelings about money during the divorce.

“He put up a fight for anything that pertained to money,” Perez said.

Despite Lewis’s attempts to clear purchases with her husband, she said he still complained about the money she was spending, in addition to countless other things.

“He complained about everything. I couldn’t cook well enough, clean well enough, take care of the kids well enough, nothing,” Lewis said. “I lost all my confidence and self-esteem.”

Lewis then learned that her husband had been cheating on her. After his secret was out in the open, Lewis said he told her his encounters were going to happen once a week. He said he’d tell her the day and time and that he’d be home at night, but it was just something he needed.

She pleaded in vain for him to be faithful to her but he was constantly on the road and she felt she couldn’t trust him.

Heartbroken, with four children to care for and no time, money or place of her own, Lewis became increasingly depressed and emotionally overwhelmed.

Friends and family begged Lewis to leave, but she still felt as though she had no power to do so.

“I told her after the first couple of times that he hit her that I couldn’t be her friend anymore if she didn’t leave him,” said her best friend, Kelly Lim. “She wasn’t doing anything to protect herself, and I told her I couldn’t support her in that. It broke my heart that she wouldn’t get out.”

It wasn’t until one of the couple’s sons walked in on his father abusing her that Lewis finally found the power to leave.

“He was sitting on my chest with all his weight and I couldn’t breathe,” Lewis said.  “I was struggling and telling him to stop when my son walked in. That was it.”

Moments later, Lewis called the police and within the next few days filed for divorce at Legal Aid Society. Still her husband pleaded for her to reconsider.

It has been two and a half years since Lewis found her will to leave. She has found a job she loves, received two promotions and regained her confidence, strength and independence. She said she has a better relationship with her four children. She and her ex-husband share custody and the children see him on Wednesdays and some weekends. Lewis said she no longer has the need to take anti-depressants and is looking forward to an increasingly peaceful and happy future.

While her ex-husband never had to serve any time in jail for the abuse, Lewis said she is still happy with the outcome.

“I don’t have to worry about [being abuse]  anymore. I got my life back and I’m so happy,” she said.

“It’s such a remarkable difference between [Lewis] now and how she used to be,” Lim said. “She has this light about her again, and she’s confident and happy. I love it!”

Lewis said she hopes her story will help other women escape from similar situations.

“You just have to make the decision to leave. I promise it’s so much better on the other side,” Lewis said.

One-stop shop for domestic violence victims


Traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, can leave people feeling alone, lost and confused. Victims live in fear while grasping for a lifeline. When they figure out where to turn, they are forced to recount the horrors of their situation over and over again.

Utah’s first, and only, Family Justice Center provides a haven for victims of domestic violence to gain shelter while meeting with representatives of various organizations that can help their plight. This minimizes time, travel and emotional heartache for the victim as he or she relays his or her story to the organizations that can provide an escape from the fears confronted on a daily basis.

Stewart Ralphs is the executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, one of the organizations represented at the FJC. “It is important to provide services so victims of domestic violence have someone who knows the processes, so they get the protection that the law affords them,” Ralphs said.

Ralphs describes most victims as coming in as “basket cases” because of the combination of harrowing abuse situations and unfamiliarity with what to do next. Most victims are referred to the FJC by other organizations, so victims arrive without much expectation. The average victim is a 23-year-old female with several children, Ralphs said.

The staff at the FJC is trained to be empathetic and culturally sensitive. When victims arrive, they are assisted with obtaining a protective order, filing for criminal charges, obtaining proper protection for children, getting shelter and finding a job. Initial services at the FJC take between four and five hours to complete.

One of the first actions a victim goes through upon arriving at the FJC is meeting with the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake. A Legal Aid Society paralegal checks for conflicts of interest before the victim summarizes his or her situation. This allows the LAS to provide the client with specific help that best serves his or her individual needs.

Once that process is complete, the victim will meet with an LAS paralegal to prepare the protective order. When the protective order is ready, it will be filed with the sheriff and subsequently served to the individual the complaint was filed against.

The protective order is effective from the time it is served through the court hearing, which is typically two weeks later. The order stays in place for the rest of the involved parties’ lives, unless the petitioner withdraws the order.

Aside from preparing protective orders, the Legal Aid Society helps the victim devise a plan to keep him or her safe. These plans typically include notifying neighbors of the situation, keeping weapons out of the house, maintaining a packed suitcase and getting locks for all doors and windows.

“We want to make people think of steps to take to protect themselves … what is the worst case scenario and how would you respond to it?” Ralphs said.

He said the Legal Aid Society’s Domestic Violence Victim Assistance Program helps almost 3,000 people in the Salt Lake valley per year. “Domestic violence never decreases. Either society addresses the problem professionally and corrects it or the problem escalates and becomes more and more serious over time,” he said.

The Legal Aid Society has been instrumental in addressing the problem of domestic violence. It is the oldest legal aid nonprofit organization in Utah. The more recent addition of the Family Justice Center in 2007 signaled another dimension to helping victims of these horrific experiences.

Marlene Gonzalez, the executive director of the Multi-Cultural Legal Center, another organization represented at the FJC, said the Family Justice Center allows for good collaboration and it is a great tool for serving the needs of the victim.

The Family Justice Center provides representatives from the Department of Workforce Services, Division of Child & Family Services, Salt Lake Police Department, YWCA, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, Salt Lake City Prosecutors Office and Multi-Cultural Legal Center.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence or abuse, you can call the YWCA at (801) 537-8600 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).

Legal Aid Society levels playing field for domestic victims


Stewart Ralphs’ passion is apparent when speaking about the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake’s work with domestic abuse victims. “I get to level the playing field, sometimes it is the first time in my client’s life that someone has stuck up for them,” he said.

Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake is the oldest functioning pro bono legal office in Utah. Formed in 1922, Legal Aid Society continues to focus primarily on domestic violence and family law cases in which the client is filing for personal protection, custody rights or divorce in a court of law.

Ralphs, the executive director, has devoted his legal career to domestic violence issues since joining LAS in 1991.

“Within the domestic violence program, just over 3,000 people are helped per year,” Ralphs said. The most common way to deal with certain domestic violence issues is to have the client fill out a protective order, with one of the experienced attorneys at LAS.

To obtain a permanent protective order against someone, the client must be a cohabitant with the person they are filing the claim against. A cohabitant must have a relation by blood, marriage, mutual child or common living situation to be awarded a full protective order.

Cases in which the client is just dating the person being served and has no official legal connection may file a civil stalking injunction. Injunctions are limited to 150 days of protection, whereas the full protective order lasts indefinitely, or until the judge feels a temporary order will suffice.

Dealing with certain clients proves to be difficult. “ Most of the people that we deal with are basket cases,” Ralphs said. “They have just come off one of the most traumatic experiences of their life. A loved one hurt them, and they are going through trauma. We have to be sensitive with people’s needs.”

Sensitivity also has to be met with determination and persistence. Legal Aid Society lawyers have to deal with massive caseloads that demand much of their time.

“The majority of our lawyers are dealing with case loads in the hundreds every year, and if they are family law cases they may take several months to a few years to get a judgment,” Ralphs said.

Even the application and registration process for obtaining legal counsel from Legal Aid Society is a laborious and time-consuming effort. Every prospective client is run through a conflict check to ensure their current case will not be compromised by another they were previously involved with.

“Once a client, always a client. Once an opposing party, always an opposing party,” is the way that Ralphs describes the policy of conflict checks.

After a client is approved, obtaining a protective order can take four to five hours.

“Many of our clients are either illiterate or cannot speak English, so our involvement is crucial to ensure the quality of the legal process,” he said.

Over time the office has brought on board more qualified personnel and assistants (such as translators) to assist the tireless legal team. However, in its infancy Legal Aid was nothing but a small group of raw and talented individuals who had to take care of everyone that walked into their office; regardless of the circumstance.

John Scheaffer, who worked as an associate attorney at the Legal Aid Society before serving as executive director for five years, cannot speak highly enough about the work that the Legal Aid Society does for Salt Lake City families.

“Legal Aid has come such a long way since it was started by Allan Crockett in the 1920s,” he said. “When I first began working at Legal Aid, there were only three lawyers and three staff members. The lead attorney, Bill Shelton, was blind and he was in court every day with his Seeing-Eye dog, working so hard to help his clients get what they deserved.”

Through the free assistance of LAS, families can afford the help of top-notch legal counsel for their case, at little or no cost. The pro bono service offered through the organization is offered year round and pertains to anything from brief consultation to full representation in any family law or domestic violence case.

“ I have a great deal of respect for what they do at Legal Aid,” Scheaffer said. “It serves not only as a place for clients to seek legal help, but as a training ground for Utah’s next best lawyers.”

An escape route for victims of domestic violence

Victims of domestic abuse have resources available that can ultimately result in survival


A woman is a victim of domestic violence every 15 minutes, according to a 2007 report done by Draper City Crime Victim Services.

Such victims can receive help from Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, which is an organization that focuses on family safety and is designed to help victims through a complicated court system. One resource Legal Aid Society assists with is preparing victims with a plan for escape in case an attacker comes after them.

“It’s one of the greatest parts of the service we [provide],” said Stewart Ralphs, executive director of Legal Aid Society.

Ralphs referred to the getaway route as “practical steps for an escape plan,” which can include anything from locking doors, to having a designated window that is best for escape, to always having packed bags that are ready to go.

Ned Searle, a representative with the Utah Office on Domestic and Sexual Violence, said when intuition tells you to leave it is important to be prepared.

Searle suggested that victims be prepared with medical records, credit cards and jewelry, among other things. He said that even taking something as seemingly inconsequential as a disposable camera can make the transition easier for a family that had to flee in the face of danger. Many people take photos of everyday events, so having a camera can help increase normalcy for a family that is surviving an unstable condition.

Other things people often forget to include with items they are prepared to take with them are family photos, an extra car key and anything that may offer a sense of ordinariness.

Searle recalled a neighbor whose husband was stalking her after their divorce. While he wanted his neighbor to be ready to leave if a dangerous situation occurred, Searle also knew he had to handle the circumstance carefully.

“I didn’t want to scare her,” Searle said. He said there is a fine line between scaring a victim and encouraging the victim of domestic abuse to be prepared for the worst.

Ralphs and Searle agree that issues of domestic violence are rarely, if ever, solved on their own. Searle said dangerous situations can spiral downward and lead to more abuse, while Ralphs said domestic violence never decreases.

“I probably get one or two victims a year” who should devise an escape route, Searle said. He added that most are frustrated with the system.

Many victims are fed up that their abuser has more money and hence more resources that make the offender better able to work within the court system, Searle said.

But Ralphs said domestic violence victims can receive legal help through Legal Aid Society.

“I get to level the playing field [and] I love being able to represent people,” Ralphs said. “Sometimes it is the first time in my client’s life that someone will stick up for them.”

Searle was careful to note that few mistakes are made by the victims of domestic violence; most know to call 911 and seek help. One piece of advice he has for victims is to trust the small intuitive voice and listen if that voice tells you to leave.

“I think people in domestic violence situations [stay] because they have been beaten down so low in self-esteem and self-worth that they don’t think they can [leave],” Searle said.

Victims of domestic violence face many psychological, legal and safety challenges. Children are often involved too, which exacerbates already dangerous and stressful problems.

“Children are always [victims of domestic violence]; if they are not the primary victim, they are the secondary victim,” Ralphs said.

The Utah Domestic Violence Council (UDVC) supports Ralphs’ concern about children in violent situations and advises parents to inform their children not to get involved during a domestic dispute.

A complete safety plan for those who intend on leaving an abuser can be found on the UDVC Web site.

The plan provides a checklist for necessary identification, financial and legal papers, as well as any medications, phone numbers and personal items that need to be compiled and ready to go in case an attacker comes looking for their victim.

In addition, UDVC lists comprehensive tips and necessary information that is useful for anyone involved in a dangerous domestic dispute.

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