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Mitchell: Budget impasse puts domestic violence victims at greater risk

Domestic violence shelters are struggling to keep their doors open during the state’s budget impasse. | File photo

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Nailah Franklin had the look.

You could see right off that she wasn’t the kind of woman who would stay with a man out of need.

She had plenty of options as well as a loving and resourceful family.

But because she turned her back on a bad relationship, Franklin was murdered and her body left to rot in a shallow grave.

The relationship suddenly flipped when Franklin, who ran with a professional crowd, discovered that the man who was presenting himself as a successful real estate developer was actually a criminal and a fraud.

It took eight tortuous years for Reginald Potts Jr., 39, to be brought to justice — a timespan far too long to be considered anything other than a gross manipulation of the criminal justice system.

OPINION

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But the guilty verdict means Potts will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez described Potts as a “classic abuser.”

He is not alone.

In 2014, there were 43,201 adult survivors of domestic violence in Illinois. African-Americans made up 26 percent of victims and whites made up 62 percent, according to statistics compiled the by the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Domestic violence is so prevalent, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office recently launched a program that has local hairdressers keeping an eye out for signs of domestic abuse.

What then?

According to advocates, leaving is the most dangerous time for domestic violence victims.

Yet some domestic violence shelters are struggling to keep their doors open during the state’s ridiculous budget impasse.

“One agency closed its doors at the end of July. Seven hundred people worked there serving over five counties in southern Illinois,” noted Kathleen Doherty, executive director of Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network.

“Another agency in Effingham served 11 counties and closed its domestic violence services. Around the state, you have one agency that serves multiple counties. When you lose one of those, it has an impact,” she said.

In September, the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network fielded 3,300 calls, the most in the organization’s 14-year history.

The increase is attributed to agencies having less staff, less money and fewer resources. At least six agencies have transferred their hotlines over to the statewide agency.

But what really tells the tale about the harm the budget impasse is causing is the shortage of available beds, Doherty said.

For instance, in Chicago, there are 112 shelter beds for domestic violence. When a new shelter, WINGS Metro, opens on the Southwest Side, there will be an additional 44 beds.

But for 17 days in September there were no shelter beds available for victims.

That meant that some women who were ready to break from an abusive relationship had nowhere to go.

“We couldn’t place them. And for mothers with young children who actually needed cribs, there were no cribs available,” Doherty said.

Before Franklin disappeared, she told a friend that if anything happened to her, Potts would have been behind it.

If anyone had believed Potts was capable of strangling Franklin and dumping her body in a weedy field, they would have built a wall around her.

Tragically, with domestic violence the worst is always a possibility.

So while the continued wrangling in Springfield might make for amusing political theater, the stalemate between lawmakers and the governor is putting real people at real risk.

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