Event Recap: Two Perspectives on Domestic Violence: Social and Judicial Activism
By: Karen Shen, Intern at Niagara and Student at Northwestern University
In the continuing effort to connect people and raise awareness on issues relevant to our society today, the Niagara Foundation held a panel forum on Wednesday, October 9 in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness month. For this forum, we were delighted to invite Dawn Dalton, Executive Director of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network and Judge Bob Anderson of DuPage County to come and talk about domestic violence. These Niagara Forums are a platform for distinguished speakers to spotlight trends, analyze important issues, exchange ideas, and participate in productive interactions that promote innovative global and public policy solutions.
Dalton started off by overviewing a few of the many services that the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network provides to victims of domestic violence including the Domestic Violence Helpline and training programs for people dealing with domestic violence. She also went over some of the other resources in Chicago, such as legal services for victims wanting to file a restraining order or get custody of a child, and the five domestic violence shelters available to victims in emergencies. She also mentioned court advocates who help victims navigate the court system, counseling to help victims understand that they are not deserving of abuse, and longer term housing to give victims a chance to live a domestic violence free life.
Dalton emphasized that domestic violence, contrary to popular belief, happens more than once and is “more than an event, [it] is a process.” When she brought up the commonly asked question, “Why doesn’t the [the victim] just leave?”, audience members nodded in understanding about how difficult it truly is for a victim to leave their abuser. According to the handout that Dalton provided for attendees to consult during the forum, “studies show that the battered person is at greatest risk when they attempt to leave.” In addition, victims might be financially dependent on the abuser, making leaving an enormous risk. Dalton also said many victims may not know what resources are available to them, which goes to show that domestic violence education is essential to help victims find a safe place.
Dalton declared that her goal was for society not to focus on the responsibility of the victim to take action, but to hold the abuser accountable. Why does the abuser choose violence? How did they get there in the first place? According to Dalton, change happens when society makes it a priority to apprehend and hold abusers responsible through the court systems and on a daily basis. “At the end of the day, culture and community, that’s what influences the policies that we end up having and living by.”
Dalton then asked for any questions from the audience. One question led to her discussion of safety plans set up by the Battered Women’s Network for women thinking of leaving their situations. She stressed that each woman’s case is different and that their plan has to make sense for them, reiterating that the Network gives a general outline for how to approach leaving, but each woman has the right to make choices based on their own case. Dalton handed the next question about the extent of police involvement in domestic violence cases over to Judge Anderson who answered by saying that law enforcement officials have responsibilities when they receive 911 calls about domestic violence including giving help to the victim, providing transportation for them, and making referrals to appropriate shelters.
The question segued perfectly into Judge Anderson’s discussion of domestic violence prevention in the legal system. He began by telling a story about his mother, whose father was an abusive alcoholic. When Anderson’s mother was young, her father would physically beat her mother and since she was her father’s favorite and he wouldn’t hit her, her job was to step in between her father and mother to stop the beating. Anderson pointed out that his mother told him this story fifty years after it had happened and even fifty years later it still burdened her. He emphasized the importance of realizing that domestic violence has an immense impact on the children in the situation and that domestic violence doesn’t just happen to strangers, but also to people we love. He added that domestic violence is very diverse in that it crosses racial, cultural, ethnic and economic lines.
“Domestic violence is a crime.” Despite those who still believe that domestic violence is a private family matter, Anderson affirms that assaulters can be charged with a criminal offense and a class A misdemeanor. He went on to explain some of the cutting edge policies that DuPage county has implemented, especially since all the murders in DuPage county this year so far have all had a domestic violence component. DuPage currently has a mandatory arrest policy where if the police are called and they find probable cause, they must arrest the alleged abuser. Additionally, any judge who hears about a domestic violence case must receive instruction during the continuing judicial education that occurs every two years. Victims can also ask a judge, with the help of a court advocate, for an order of protection that can include exclusive possession of the dwelling (if it is being shared), no contact from the abuser, possession of children, and other remedies. “The advocates do a phenomenal job and are really a wonderful resource, our system wouldn’t work without them, no ifs no ands no buts.”
Continuing to speak about activism in the legal system, Judge Anderson recalled Mothers Against Drunk Driving as one of the great success stories in the last twenty years. DUIs used to be treated like domestic violence is treated today, but MADD and similar social groups made it socially unacceptable to drink while driving. Judge Anderson pushed for audience members to go out and do the same for domestic violence. “My mother would beg you to work in your communities to change what is happening right now. You can make a difference.” Anderson closed by urging the audience to ask questions and seek help for domestic violence victims.
If you would like more resources for domestic violence prevention and awareness, visit the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network (http://www.batteredwomensnetwork.org/) or visit the Family Violence Coordinating Council (www.ifvcc.org).
About Dawn Dalton
Dawn Dalton is the Executive Director of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network (The Network). The Network is a membership organization that unites the community through advocacy, education, and outreach, for a common cause – to put an end to society’s tolerance of domestic violence in all forms. The Network advocates for systems change, speaks as the collective voice of Cook County domestic violence programs, provides, through its Centralized Training Institute, comprehensive domestic violence training for over 1,000 professionals each year and operates the State of Illinois Domestic Violence Helpline. The Helpline receives over 30,000 calls annually from victims of domestic violence and concerned citizens who are seeking support, information and referrals.
Ms. Dalton took the role of Executive Director in October 2007. Prior to this position she served as a member of The Network’s Board of Directors, fulfilling a five-year term, three of which were served as Co-chair of the Board. Ms. Dalton filled this commitment while working in or managing direct service programs in the domestic violence community. Her history with the Network at multiple levels, along with her qualifications and commitment to domestic violence victim-services over many years, make her a natural leader for the domestic violence community.
Ms. Dalton serves on numerous state and local committees and is consistently utilized as a resource of information for local, state and federal legislators. She has attended a White House Domestic Violence Awareness Month event with President Obama and Vice-President Biden, as well as spoken at a US Congressional briefing on the need for men and boys in the work to end domestic violence and sexual assault. Currently she is leading the Chicago domestic violence community in capacity-building projects such as The Network’s comprehensive long-term outcome measures project to inform future service delivery models for metropolitan Chicago, as well as partnering with local hospitals and domestic violence agencies to effectively implement the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for domestic violence screening and counseling in healthcare settings.
About Judge Bob Anderson
Bob Anderson is a Circuit Judge in DuPage County, presently assigned as the Supervising Judge of the DuPage County Juvenile Courts. He graduated from Loyola University of Chicago with a B.A. Degree in 1971 and a J. D. Degree in 1974.
Bob is the Co-Chair of the Illinois Supreme Court Special Committee on Child Custody Issues; a member of the Supreme Court Education Committee; and, a member of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Leadership Council. He teaches Family Law at Loyola University School of Law. He also teaches Family Law at the New Judges Seminar. Bob has spoken at many Judicial and Legal Seminars and to many Community groups.
He has been honored for his work in the area of Domestic Violence; in the area of Crime Prevention; for his work on Education for Juveniles; and, for his work on behalf of children. He is the Second Vice-President of the Illinois Judges Association. Bob is lucky enough to be married to Irene Bahr, a Past President of the Illinois State Bar Association, and has 3 children.