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Sandy • Alisha Lee didn't see her father hit her mother, but she saw the evidence: broken coffee tables, holes in the wall, and black eyes.

"I still have the memories to this day," said the now 21-year-old. "I don't think parents always realize the effect on children, and that it sticks with them the rest of their lives."

Her mother left her father when Lee was 7 years old and raised Lee on her own, sometimes working more than one job to support herself and her daughter.

"I'm thankful I have a mother who could take a stand and be strong enough to leave," she said. "It's so important that we talk about domestic violence, that we're not ashamed of it."

Lee, who now holds the Miss Legacy beauty contest title and is a student at Utah Valley University, spoke as part of a ceremony in Sandy marking domestic violence awareness month. Officials released 359 purple balloons at city hall Tuesday to symbolize the victims of physical domestic violence in Sandy last year, and also set 610 blue pinwheels in the ground, each symbolizing a child who witnessed that violence.

The pinwheels are meant to serve as a reminder that domestic violence is often a cycle, with children who witness it growing up to repeat it in their own relationships.

"Witnessing domestic violence is a form of child abuse," said Sandy Police Chief Stephen Chapman. "Domestic violence is not just a family issue, it is a crime."

While the number of physically violent domestic incidents dropped by 30 in 2011 from the previous year, the number of verbal-abuse calls increased by 92 last year, to 502.

It isn't clear whether that rise is a good thing because it signals more people feel comfortable calling the police, or a bad sign because once police arrive, more victims are unwilling or unable to report physical harm, said Barbara Higgins, a family crisis and intervention coordinator for Sandy police.

"That makes us concerned," she said. "Just what is the cause?"

City officials are committed to investigating the causes of domestic violence and reducing it, said Mayor Tom Dolan.

"This is not just an exercise to us," he said. "This is a very, very important part of how we treat our citizens and our community."

Twitter: @lwhitehurst

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