By: Karen Shen, Intern at the Niagara Foundation 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).