A tide of violence
Utah homicide rate for women is 21% higher than average
By Amy Joi Bryson
Deseret Morning News
Aug 16, 2004
Last week, as searchers continued to sift through the county landfill looking for Lori Hacking's body, authorities say a woman was mowed down by her boyfriend's car in Arches National Park, a Carbon County woman was shot four times by her husband and a Roy man held his estranged wife at gunpoint for two hours.
The violence that continues to claim and threaten women's lives in Utah is ever-present and on the increase, leaving the state with a homicide rate among women that is 21 percent higher than the national average.
"The majority of the domestic violence victims are white, predominantly female, and firearms are the weapon of choice," said Kristine Knowlton, an assistant attorney general. "The homicide rate keeps going up, it just keeps getting worse."
For 2002-2003, the two Salt Lake County crisis shelters for battered women and their children saw a 70 percent increase in the number of victims who could not be sheltered there due to crowding and instead had to be housed elsewhere in the state or in motels.
This latest fiscal year, the 50-bed YWCA shelter in Salt Lake City on its own experienced a 73 percent increase.
"It is important for people to understand that domestic violence continues to be a serious problem in Utah, that domestic violence is a crime, not a private family matter," said Anne Burkholder, the Y's chief executive officer.
"We are very concerned that thousands of women and children are being displaced from their homes because of domestic violence," she said.
Mark Hacking, 28, stands accused of murdering his wife, Lori Hacking, allegedly shooting her while she slept and then dumping her body in the trash. He is being held in the Salt Lake County Jail on $1 million bail.
Since the early 1990s, prosecutors across the state have teamed with police and lawmakers to strengthen Utah's community response to the problem of domestic violence.
Authorities have been trained, laws have been tightened or added to the books and there has been an overall increased emphasis on protecting victims from their abusers.
Still, the problem continues.
"One of the questions we are always being asked is if domestic violence is on the rise or is just being reported more," said Stewart Ralphs, chair of the Utah Domestic Violence Council.
"The answer is yes," to both.
Through community outreach services and victim advocate programs often housed in police departments, battered spouses are more likely to know of resources offering protection Ñ from court orders with criminal penalties to keep abusers away to counseling and information about transitional housing options.
While women today are more likely than their mothers 20 years ago to report an abusive situation, advocates believe there is still widespread community misunderstanding about the problem.
"I don't think we have labeled domestic violence very well for our citizens," said Ned Searle, the state's domestic violence coordinator.
While authorities don't have reason to suspect Lori Hacking suffered beatings at the hand of her husband, his pattern of deception is a trademark of an abuser.
Mark Hacking lied to his wife and others in his family about his being accepted to medical school, and prosecutors believe it was when Lori Hacking confronted her husband about the deception that he responded by taking her life.
"The alleged facts of this seem to corroborate with control of information, deception and a pattern of lying to the spouse," Searle said.
Domestic violence, officials say, often finds its roots in deceit Ñ from hiding a drinking problem revealed later in a violent confrontation to total control of the family finances and refusal to disclose how the money is spent.
Any challenge to the deceit or to the status quo can precipitate a breaking point for the abuser, who is threatened by the loss of control.
That challenge can be as simple as a demand to "fess up" to the deceit to a spouse who initiates a breakup.
"You are now confronting them with the reality. They've built this kind of porcelain facade around them, so everyone believes they are a certain thing," Knowlton said. "And when the other partner says 'that is not right' the cracks start and the facade starts breaking away. The abuser can't afford that."
The stress of pregnancy is also a factor in domestic violence, with pregnant women risking a much higher incidence of abuse, said Dr. Steven Kay, clinical director of Cornerstone Counseling, which has a domestic violence treatment program.
An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found pregnant women and recently pregnant women are more likely to die as a result of homicide than any other cause of death.
Ê Ê Ê Kay said he is unsure of how much statistical analysis has been done to determine the reason for the link but did point out that experts believe pregnancy creates stress in a relationship and stress is often a trigger for violence.
"With offenders, a woman and their unborn child could be seen as the source of the stress, and they direct their anger there."
While medically unconfirmed by doctors, Lori Hacking had told friends she was five weeks pregnant.
Despite efforts in legal and victim advocate arenas to curtail domestic violence, the crimes continue to occur.
A California woman obtained a divorce, fled to Utah to start a new life and took a job as a school teacher in Roy.
Her ex-husband tracked her down, crashed through her window in the early morning of New Year's Day and shot her in the back and shot her boyfriend multiple times, including once in the throat. While she was crawling to safety, her attacker shot and killed himself.
Despite having a protective order against her estranged husband, a Layton woman was attacked in her home, which was then torched by her abuser. The boyfriend was stabbed multiple times, and his 6-year-old daughter perished in the blaze.
"This will continue until everyone is willing to accept what they are hearing at their neighbor's house is not just a family problem," Searle said. "It is violence, and people need to take the lead by getting victims help, by calling law enforcement."
Searle and others say the solution goes beyond the involvement of advocates and those in law enforcement.
To that end, the Utah Domestic Violence Council hopes to release a handbook this month aimed specifically at religious leaders, instructing them on how to spot and help domestic violence victims.
"Congregational leaders need to reach out to the women in their congregations in two ways: to let them know it is safe for them to talk to them and to let them know they have information on where these victims can go for help," Ralphs said.
Despite Lori Hacking's and her husband's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, officials believe her fate will open the eyes of all people in all faiths that domestic violence doesn't discriminate.
"It happens everywhere Ñ to people of all religions, all socio-economic classes, to women regardless of their educational background," Searle said.
And while it's clear the laws are getting tougher and counselors are working to "re-train" domestic violence offenders, advocates believe there needs to be a greater cultural and social shift to end men's violence against women.
"Domestic violence is not a woman's issue, it is a man's problem," Searle said. "I think it is men who need to step up in the fight against this, by teaching their boys to respect women."
Otherwise, he said, abuse becomes another family's inheritance.
"To begin the extinction of violence, men must take responsibility for its existence," he said. "Passively accepting the problem of violence means, in effect, contributing to its maintenance."
Domestic violence facts
922 families were turned away from domestic violence shelters in 2003 in Utah.
Nationally, 1 out of every 12 women has been stalked at some point in her life.
Seventy-six percent of women killed by intimate partners were stalked by these partners before they were killed.
Locally, in 2002, only 20 percent of criminal stalking cases resulted in a guilty conviction. That same year, 58 percent of the cases were dismissed.
In 2001, the national homicide rate among female victims murdered by a male in a single victim/single perpetrator incident was 1.4 per 100,000. Utah's rate was 21 percent higher than the national rate, putting Utah at 16th in the nation.
In 2003, 26 individuals in Utah lost their lives in domestic violence-related homicides.
On a national level, at least 6 percent of all pregnant women, about 240,000, are battered each year by the men in their lives.
Pregnant women and recently pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.