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When Katie McMinn began working in the Utah Department of Health as a violence-protection specialist, some of the more disturbing cases of domestic and dating violence agitated her.

"When I first started, I would come home for an hour, shut the door and play piano for an hour," said the 28-year-old Cottonwood Heights woman. Only then would she be able extricate herself from the tangled web of violence and unhealthy passion she was immersed in at work and re-enter the world.

But as McMinn enters her eighth year in her job, she focuses on the ever-rewarding benefits. Instead of bottling up the tragedies she's working to prevent, she's making art. She recently channeled some of her experiences into a song, "Sleep Through It," where a boy who watches his mother get battered eventually becomes a batterer himself.

I know you hurt inside

But the pain you have to hide

We're both full of fear

Can we just sleep through it

In recognition of Dating Violence Awareness Month, McMinn is offering free downloads of the song until the end of February. "I really wanted to embody the dynamics of those relationships," she said. "It's a learned behavior."

The song, a marked departure from the usually sunny, piano-driven pop songs McMinn writes, has earned her more fans because of its range.

"She writes very catchy songs," said Herriman resident Jana Edgington, who along with her 8-year-old daughter, Sammie, counts herself as a McMinn fan. But "Sleep Through It," Edgington said, speaks to McMinn's work experience and exposes behavior that is usually neglected or endured.

In 2009, 8.2 percent of Utah female high-school students said they had been physically forced to have sex when they didn't want to, compared with 5.8 percent of male high-school students, according to data from Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, nearly 11 percent of high-school students said they have been hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

As a result, much of McMinn's job aims at prevention, which includes going to schools and teaching students about conflict resolution, healthy dating strategies, and where to seek help if abuse is imminent. In addition, she sits on the Utah Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee, which meets regularly to prevent deaths associated with domestic violence each year, and looks for patterns to prevent escalation of domestic violence.

"We always hear, 'Dating violence doesn't happen in Utah,' " McMinn said. "'Domestic violence doesn't happen in Utah.' But I've come across a lot of victims and survivors of domestic violence, and it's overwhelming for me to see how strong they are."

In the meantime, McMinn continues to perform around the area and, influenced by British R&B singer Adele, wrote some 25 songs since last September. Writing a song such as "Sleep Through It" has inspired her to seek out other stories.

"I used to be a writer of things had that happened to me," she said. Now by telling other people's stories, she hopes to makes a difference.

Twitter: @davidburger —

"Peace on Earth" Awards Brunch & Silent Auction

Sponsored by the Salt Lake Area Domestic Violence Coalition, "Peace on Earth" is a recognition event for those who perform excellent work in the field of domestic violence. Proceeds from the Silent Auction will benefit South Valley Sanctuary and YWCA shelters. Katie McMinn will perform.

When • Wednesday, Feb. 29 at 10:30 a.m.

Where • Episcopal Church Center of Utah, 75 S. 200 East, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $15 per person, check or cash only

Hear it • "Sleep Through It" can be downloaded free until March 1 at