Downtown rally honors domestic violence survivors

by Grace Eleyae

Domestic violence prevention advocates converged in front of Chicago’s Thompson Center Wednesday to call for government action and remove road blocks for victims. A large-scale art installation entitled “Not Available” drove home the point. The Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network hosted the rally and a live demonstration allowing attendees to walk “in the shoes” of a victim of domestic violence.

The staged performance showed what it might be like for survivors fleeing an abusive intimate partner. It started in a small cardboard replica of a kitchen and went through the horrors victims of violence may face. It illustrated what closed doors victims experience and the added pain when government organizations often turn them away. As the women in the program, some holding baby dolls, sought refuge from their abusive situations, they were all met by “unavailable” agencies. These scenarios included the local hospital, an emergency shelter, child care services and others that are typically contacted by victims of domestic violence. Not finding assistance, the women either ended up back in the kitchen in which they started, or on the street, homeless.

“You saw what the women were going through when going from station to station and being told ‘No’ along the way as clear evidence for when people ask why she stays,” said Rebecca Darr, executive director of the WINGS program, an organization aimed at eliminating domestic violence and homelessness.

In addition to Darr, speakers included Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) and Network executive director Kathy Doherty.

Doherty noted an increase in calls to their domestic violence membership organizations after the Ray Rice controversy, in which a video clip surfaced of the former Ravens running back knocking his fiancé unconscious. The couple has since married.

“We found out that people were adding extra staff to answer calls at their organization,” Doherty said in her speech. “In addition, WINGS had 80 requests that they could not fill for shelter in one week.”

The Network serves as a first responder for women and their families calling in for assistance and receives over 25,000 calls to their hotline yearly, according to Doherty. They also provide training for various professionals in Chicago and Cook County.

The last speaker, Sarah McClarey, a graduate of the WINGS program, shared her struggle as a survivor of domestic violence and her road to recovery. After losing her young son due to an attack by her ex-husband, she fled her home with her other two young sons.

“At that point, homelessness was a better option for me than staying,” she said.

She closed by saying, “I hope that we can all recognize that at the root of domestic violence is really when women aren’t treated as equals in a relationship.”

Through the WINGS program, McClarey was able to go to school, get a job and a car and regain stability for herself and her young children.

“That is our goal,” Darr said. “To help [domestic violence victims] get to self-sufficiency and never have to look back.”