Friday, October 01, 2010

New data on domestic violence in Illinois

By Jamey Dunn

An advocacy group for survivors of abuse released studies on the scope of domestic violence and the needs of victims today, as Gov. Pat Quinn declared October Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“We must end the silence about the domestic violence. … We — all of us, men and women, young and old — have a duty to each other to help protect the victims of domestic violence,” Quinn said at a Chicago news conference.

According to the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. There are approximately 115,000 to 125,000 domestic violence cases annually in Illinois, and 300,000 women and children will experience violent abuse — either as a victim or a witness — each year. Members of the coalition provide services to 44,000 survivors and 8,000 children each year.

The coalition tracked homicides related to domestic abuse from June 2009 to May 2010. The study found 59 acts of domestic violence that resulted in 76 homicides. The majority of the victims were women who were married to or had been married to their killers. However, the study also included children, friends and family of domestic violence victims who were also murdered. The group plans to track murders next year for comparison with this year’s data. The next study will have a stronger focus on prevention by looking at orders of protection mental state of perpetrators.

The group also surveyed more than 900 survivors as part of a three-year assessment of the needs of domestic violence victims in Illinois and recommended ways government and communities can help.

Respondents consistently cited four challenges that were the biggest obstacles to overcome while seeking independence from their abusers:

  • Finding safe affordable housing. The coalition called on landlords to offer flexible leases, and payment plans for rental deposits. The report also suggested allowing those fleeing abuse to pay utilities as part of the price of rent, so there is less paperwork connecting them to their location.
  • Becoming financially independent. The group asked job training programs, child care providers and credit counselors to partner with it to help victims get back on their feet.
  • Negotiating the legal system. The study recommended increasing fines that are a part of the legal punishment for abuse because the money funds victims' services. It also called for requiring counseling for those convicted of domestic violence instead of offering it as an option in plea deals.
  • Gaining access to health care, including mental health treatment. The association is calling for increased access to low-cost or free health care, as well as training health care professionals to handle the specific needs of abuse victims.
According to the report: “Some of those reasons are directly related to the dynamics of power and the control a batterer has over the victim. Other reasons are directly related to the gaps in services available to survivors in Illinois and barriers discovered when they ask for help.”

Vickie Smith, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said one of the biggest obstacles is changing people’s opinions on domestic violence and getting them to stop blaming victims for staying with their abusers.

“Illinois has some of the best laws in the country on the books. We don’t need more legislation. We need all of our communities to step up and stop putting all of our excuses on the backs of survivors,” she said.

The survey also included data from organizations that provide services to abuse victims. Smith says budget cuts in recent years have meant turning away women and children looking for help escaping violence in their homes. According to the group’s survey, service providers turned away more than 15,000 survivors and children seeking shelter in fiscal year 2009, which was a 24 percent increase over the last three years. Service providers reported multiple reasons for turning away those seeking help, the two most common being lack of staff and lack of available beds or money for alternatives, such as hotels.

The report says the economic downturn that has hit state revenues, causing cuts, has also increased the need for services relating to domestic violence. “The current economic crisis exacerbates factors that affect domestic violence — increasing unemployment and poverty. As a result, survivors are experiencing an increase in the frequency and severity of abuse due to the effects of these conditions.”

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