Utah seeks grant money for victims

Utah officials are hoping to snag a federal grant that would serve victims of domestic violence in rural areas, especially women and children who live in polygamous communities in the southwestern part of the state.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office plans to submit a request on Monday for up to $900,000 to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), officials said. The money — which would come from the Rural Domestic Violence and Child Victimization Enforcement Grant Program administered by the DOJ’s Violence Against Women Office — would be used to operate a hot line and shelters, as well as provide counseling and legal assistance.

A portion also would fund an awareness campaign to let victims know help is available.

The funds are meant for populations that traditionally are underserved. The women in the towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., fit the definition because they face cultural barriers and transportation problems in the isolated communities on the Arizona Strip.

Colorado City residents also would be served because the nearest Arizona shelter is three hours away in Mohave County. The twin cities have approximately 8,000 residents, most of whom support the practice of polygamy.

Trouble started brewing in the area Jan. 10 when 21 men, all members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, were stripped of their membership and ordered to leave their homes without their wives and children. The excommunications were ordered by Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the sect.

The shake-up prompted several teenage girls to flee in fear that they would be married off to older men. Officials have prepared for the possibility of an exodus of others, especially the female relatives of the excommunicated men.

A state domestic abuse hot line, staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, already is available at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Callers during off hours are directed to leave a message with a safe time to call back or call a national 24-hour hot line at 1-800-799-7233. They also are told to call 911 in case of an emergency.

The federal grant request includes money to make the state hot line a 24-hour-a-day service.

The grant would be administered by the Utah Division of Child and Family Services office in St. George. Other agencies joining in the grant request are the DOVE Center, a St. George shelter for abused women; the Washington County Sheriff’s Office; the Mohave (Ariz.) County Sheriff’s Office; the St. George Police Department; and Utah Legal Services.

If Utah is awarded the highly competitive grant, the money probably would be available in the summer or early fall.

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