Story by: Emily Ashcroft
SALT LAKE CITY — A West Jordan lawmaker hopes to see the creation of an app that offers a way for domestic violence and sexual assault victims to seek help anonymously and create a record of the assaults.
The sponsor of HB427, Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, said “no one should live in fear” is her motto for the bill.
“I think that there’s more we could do to help people not live in fear, that’s my goal,” Acton said.
She wants to pattern it after the SafeUT app offered to teens in crisis and considering suicide. Acton introduced her bill last Tuesday but she said Friday she wants to put it on hold and work on it more between Legislative sessions.
Jennifer Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said she was not sure that an app would be able to adequately address the issue. She compared it to using an app to help someone with a heart attack.
“We’re very concerned about potential unintended consequences when it comes to any sort of technology. Domestic and sexual violence are very complicated, and so we always think about survivor safety first,” Oxborrow said.
Oxborrow has concerns that the idea was not developed by professional advocates.
“Anytime we’re creating any sort of technology approach to survivor safety, that needs to be vetted very carefully to make sure that we aren’t exacerbating risks for a survivor,” Oxborrow said.
After speaking about the bill with Oxborrow, Acton said she thinks there is potential for the bill but understands the concerns, particularly the worry that current services in Utah would not be able to accommodate the increased demand.
“You don’t want to turn someone away who’s calling,” Acton said.
The bill was suggested to Acton by Jeremy Roberts. He said he worked with legislators on the SafeUT app and he has helped with other domestic violence prevention bills this year as well.
Roberts said 65 percent of women who are murdered in Utah are killed by their husband or partner. Roberts said making a tool like the SafeUT app for women to report would be very beneficial.
“Domestic violence in Utah is just insanely underreported,” Roberts said.
Because Utah has already developed the platform with the SafeUT app, the new app would be less expensive, Roberts said. One of the notable aspects of the app would be the ability to log instances of domestic violence for those who are not yet ready to report to police.
Oxborrow said calendaring is not a new approach, advocates have used various approaches for this based on what is the safest. She expressed concerns an app would allow an abusive person or stalker to gain access to a survivor’s plan for safety.
“I think the SafeUT app is wonderful for people who are struggling with suicide risk, but the difference … is a person who is struggling with suicide is considering harming themselves, a person who is dealing with a domestic violence situation is being harmed by someone else,” Oxborrow said.
Roberts said a large purpose of this app would be to increase reporting of sexual and domestic violence. He said if the app is able to increase reporting by even 3 percent or 5 percent it will be worth the effort.
According to Oxborrow, the state funded hotline for reporting sexual violence receives more than 40,000 calls every year and refers people to services in their communities.
The Utah Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-897-5465) is open 24/7 for anyone to speak confidentially to a professional victims advocate. There are also resources available at udvc.org.