Chicago has made substantial headway combating domestic violence in the last few years, a feat supported by crime statistics. The Chicago Police Department reported an 11.5 percent reduction in domestic crimes and a 3.8 percent drop in the number of calls citywide through the first six months of 2014. The numbers show overall improvement but 25 of the city’s high-crime neighborhoods are not sharing in that success.
Domestic violence calls in Englewood, Humboldt Park and South Shore among others, averaged between 30 and 49 a day—the same figures Chicago Police reported for 2013.
The reason may be rooted inside these neighborhoods, domestic violence experts say.
That’s because those communities have the most crime in general. It makes sense that neighborhoods prone to violence would have a greater instance of this particular subset of violence, said Kathy Doherty, executive director for the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network.
Rebecca Darr, chief executive officer for WINGS, a nonprofit advocacy group promoting domestic violence awareness, agreed. “There are so many variables and so many obstacles that these communities face. It’s not just a one-topic conversation. Domestic violence is part of the larger conversation around gang violence, poverty, all those things they are faced with that people in other neighborhoods are not.”
In Illinois, domestic violence is an umbrella term encompassing the abuse of family members, people sharing a home and child abuse—in addition to violence against intimate partners. And although the city is working hard to fund domestic violence awareness initiatives, behavioral patterns can be hard to break.
“People don’t always know what they’re experiencing unless they see it out there and they’re going, ‘Oh, ok, well that’s what’s going on with me,’” Doherty said. “And even if they’re experiencing it they’re so isolated they just don’t know where to get help. So if you keep those messages and that info out there, victims and their friends and family are going to link up with resources.”
Community members also must speak up about the issue and make it clear that domestic violence—and intimate partner violence—will not be tolerated, Darr said. “There has to be a coordinated community response, on the ground supporting what the police are trying to do in order for the domestic violence to stop. And it isn’t just the victims’ responsibility, it’s the abuser’s responsibility too.”
Darr described a need to “wrap” each of Chicago’s 25 most violent communities in resources. Victims of intimate-partner violence often lack an exit strategy, which further complicates their situation. “If I’m in an area of the city where there is no shelter for me to go to, and I don’t have money to transport myself to get to one, I’m going to be stuck in the situation I’m in and I’m going to have to rely on the police to come help me when the next incident occurs,” she said.
During a recent press conference, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy cited the issue of repeat offenders and frequent visits from police. “Our officers respond to tens of thousands of domestic calls for service each year, and visit many of those households more than once. These circumstances are often very dangerous for everyone involved, including the officers.”
As part of a pilot initiative recently slated for expansion, Chicago Police have begun receiving specialized training related to handling domestic violence calls and advising victims on their options.
Doherty praised local efforts and said that Chicago offers more services than many of its counterparts: “Typically if you go to other big cities or to other states there’s only one or two domestic violence agencies in an area. Cook County is an anomaly in that sense because we have, relatively speaking, a lot of domestic violence agencies and services.”
Chicago has five shelters for female victims of domestic violence and their children, four of which are on the North Side. WINGS aims to change that by opening a new 40-bed shelter on the Southwest Side next year to provide a safe haven for victims in one of the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods.