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State’s domestic violence hotline sees uptick in calls

The Network.org

Contacts with Illinois’ domestic violence hotline were up 9 percent from 2020, according to a recent report by the group that runs the state's domestic violence hotline.

That’s a total of 32,000 contacts in 2021, reported Measuring Safety by The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence.

“We really are seeing the results of the pandemic, or folks were having increased rates of isolation, economic problems and other sort of outside stressors that kind of increase incidents of violence. And continually, we're kind of seeing that impact of COVID still there, but also seeing folks who are reaching out who are more likely to contact the hotline, than maybe other resources,’’ said report author Olivia Farrell. The pandemic meant between 2020-21, many survivors could not get in-person service.

“That meant they might not be able to work with court personnel or the advocates who are, otherwise normally at the courts to work directly with survivors, but instead were trying to navigate the system from afar,” she said.

But there was a decline in contacts with law enforcement statewide, which Farrell attributed to apparent dissatisfaction with law enforcement and legal services.

“I think we're also seeing more and more folks kind of turning to those community-based services,” she said.

Also, the report showed that a disproportionate number of survivors are Black or Latinx and/or transgender.

For instance, the Black population in Chicago is only 30 percent. But Black survivors made 58 percent of contacts to the hotline.

“Unfortunately, what we've seen is they are not accessing services at the same rates. So some of that might be unwillingness to reach out to … systems, such as the criminal legal system, which is a way in which survivors are often connected to services. They may also have some lack of trust in service providers, which have historically served more white women,’’ Farrell said.

“But we are working to kind of overcome that and work with these individuals more during more community outreach, having more culturally competent services, who work more specifically with these different populations and are able to provide the services that really fit their unique needs a little more. But it's definitely still an area where there's some growth needed,’’ she said. Meanwhile, those seeking orders of protection rose 23 percent in Sangamon County. That hike was true of the state as a whole, as well.

Farrell said, “What we do hear from court advocates who are on the ground is that more and more survivors have difficulty accessing other criminal remedies. Going through the process to file for criminal charges, or something like that, can be very, very challenging, whereas orders or protection are usually a little more accessible.”

In addition, the report showed that more than 4,000 individuals were turned away from shelter services in 2021.

“There’s pretty consistently a few thousand individuals who are turned away just because service providers don't have the capacity to work with them."

“We are hopeful, with some of the new investments we've seen at both the city and state levels, that service providers will be able to expand and offer additional housing and shelter units allowing that number to decrease,” she said.

The Network.org

The report offers four key recommendations:

1. Sustain increased financial investments in gender-based violence services. Illinois and the City of Chicago made historic investments of $70.9 million and $35 million, respectively, in work to eliminate gender-based violence in 2021, which should be sustained to ensure the programs that are working can be funded and expanded.

2. Prioritize direct, community-based services. Community-based services have proved most beneficial to survivors because they are trauma-informed, offer wrap-around services (such as childcare, economic assistance, and community-building), and have fewer barriers to access than public programs.

3. Utilize awareness campaigns to connect survivors to community-based resources. Ninety percent of survivors interviewed were unfamiliar with community-based resources. Awareness campaigns are vital so that survivors can access these services.

4. Increase gender-based violence data collection and availability. Limited data collection on gender-based violence means this sector is often unable to support the full range of survivors' needs and successfully advocate for those needs.

To contact the domestic violence hotline, call 877-863-6338.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.