Working together to help domestic violence victimsOct 22, 2021 08:30AM ● By Tom Haraldsen
Bountiful Assistant City Attorney Yvette Donosso and Victim Advocate Ashley Stewart deal with domestic violence cases involving local residents. Photo by Tom Haraldsen
(Editor’s Note: October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is part two of a two-part series on how DV issues are handled in Bountiful.)
BOUNTIFUL—Yvette Donosso knows first hand how large a problem victimized crime is in Bountiful. As the Assistant City Attorney, she deals with hundreds of cases each year as she prepares for prosecution. She knows that every time a call is received by police dispatch involving a crime, it sets off a team effort to gather facts and find resolution or restitution for the victims.
“There are lots of checks and balances all along the way,” she said. “We know that our job is to be fair, to be neutral, to treat people with respect. By the time I file charges, there have been several people who’ve looked at the case.”
Working with Bountiful Victim Advocate Ashley Stewart, Donosso receives a calendar of cases that average about 80 per week. They rely on the work of officers such as Lt. David Gill, one of the police department supervisors who meets with the victims, starts the process of issuing protective orders, and does the groundwork.
“Ashley and I could not do our job without these officers in the trenches,” Donosso said. “Lt. Gill is our jail release agreement expert. He muddles through all the red tape, knows who is responsible for what and how it all works together. And he assures our officers are properly trained with lethality assessments and de-escalating things. They do so much work before we get involved.”
Those first responders also gather witness statements and take photos of broken doors, damaged property and victims’ bruises, intelligence that is vital in Donosso’s efforts to build a case.
Bountiful City has received federal financial assistance in the form of a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant to help fund Stewart’s part-time position. VOCA covers a number of different crimes, including adult and child physical or sexual assault, DUI/DWI incidents, hate crimes, identity theft/fraud/financial crime, stalking or harassment, and violation of a court (protective) order. But the largest number of VOCA victimization crimes in Bountiful are for domestic or family violence.
“We’ve had 3,520 dealings with victims over the past 12 months,” Donosso said. That has led to hundreds of restitutions, mediations and victims assisted. Clients helped are largely female, but still about a 65-35 ratio to males. And they range in age from infant to elderly – the majority in the 25-59 year age range. Protective orders, which generally take between three to five hours to complete, are often filed on behalf of the victims.
One frustration that Donosso and Stewart face is when a victim changes his or her mind about moving forward with a prosecution. The COVID pandemic has exacerbated that situation.
“With COVID cancelling trials for months (no juries), some victims have said, ‘Well, forget about it.’ If this is going to be delayed for a year and half, then I don’t want to do this anymore,’” Donosso said. “So we have to either encourage them to stay, or respect their decision to back out.”
She looks at the whole picture for each situation – the background, previous arrests or complaints – then comes up with a suggested safety plan for the victim.
“Part of what I do is not only hold that person accountable but try to offer them a path forward,” she said. “I ask to do a domestic violence evaluation, say ‘let’s get you some treatment, let’s get you some anger management. I want to help you stop this behavior.’ And I want to get a protective order for that victim. It’s kind of a holistic approach – getting to the bottom of the problem to help break this cycle. There are options, and we try to be flexible but always on the side of protecting the victims.”
In Davis County, another element that enters into some situations is faith – in essence, the belief that marriages are eternal commitments, even if there are contemporary problems of “red flags.” It is not uniquely just for Latter-day Saints, as Donosso said many faiths have similar beliefs.
“We just want to help keep kids safe and do what we can within the judicial framework and restraints that we have,” she said.
“Yvette and I both really do honor what the victims want,” Stewart said. “We both have the perspective that this is not our life, it is not our journey – it’s theirs. Leaving an abusive relationship isn’t easy. The retaliation that can happen is scary – financially or verbally or physically. We want them to know there’s someone on their side to help when they are ready to be helped.”
“I’m very passionate about domestic violence and DV advocacy,” Donosso said. “One in 4 women and 1 in 10 men have experienced some type of physical violence or stalking related to their partner. Talking to people about why they stay or leave – 70 percent experience escalated violence when they try to leave. I think most everyone of us knows someone who has been affected by domestic violence in some way, shape or form.”
Ashley Stewart, the city’s Victim Advocate, can be reached at 801-298-6137 or via email at [email protected]