Lightfoot highlights post-pandemic surge in domestic violence, city’s commitment to stop it

Last year, the mayor unveiled a plan to confront gender-based violence and human trafficking. It was designed with input from survivors and supported by $25 million in “new investments” made possible by federal relief funds.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke Monday at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

The day after Super Bowl Sunday normally triggers an uptick in calls to domestic violence hotlines, presumably because it follows a long day of drinking, drug use or both.

The fact that it coincides with Valentine’s Day this year might even add to the stress.

No surprise, then, that Mayor Lori Lightfoot chose “Super Bowl Monday” to shine an unflattering spotlight on the post-pandemic surge in domestic and gender-related violence in Chicago and highlight her administration’s more comprehensive approach to the intransigent problem.

Lightfoot ticked off the frightening statistics.

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The Chicago Police Department gets 230,000 calls for help each year from domestic violence victims. From 2019 to 2020, domestic violence homicides increased 96%.

Although calls “seem to be trending backwards,” they remain at “crisis levels” along with violations of protective orders. Already this year, there has been a 400% increase in non-fatal domestic violence shootings compared to the same period last year, the mayor said — and domestic violence homicides have doubled.

“In addition to directly impacting survivors, domestic violence … is corrosive to families and communities. Violence begets violence. Too many of our young people are growing up in homes where they are first-hand experiencing and witnessing violence. Then within their own communities, they continue to see and experience violence,” Lightfoot said.

“It’s not a surprise, then, that the community areas where we’ve seen high rates of domestic violence mirror the same communities where we see high rates of gun violence and other manifestations of poverty and disinvestment.”

Last year, Lightfoot unveiled, what she called Chicago’s first-ever strategic plan to confront gender-based violence and human trafficking.

It was designed by survivors, along with community and city partners and supported by $25 million in “new investments” made possible by federal relief funds.

That new money includes $5 million in emergency financial assistance; 100 more “rapid-re-housing units” for women fleeing domestic abuse; what the city claims is a 2,000% increase in legal services for survivors; and “new program models” to support young people who bear the scars of seeing their mothers beaten in their own homes.

Operating on the premise that domestic violence is a “public health issue,” the Chicago Department of Public Health is also spearheading a pilot program calling for the city to bring services to people who cause harm, whether or not criminal charges or an order of protection has been filed against them.

Such services normally require a court order.

Lightfoot pleaded with victims of domestic and gender-based violence to call the Illinois domestic violence hotline: 1-877-863-6338.

“Don’t go through this alone. It’s hard. It’s challenging. But reach out. There’s somebody on the other end of that phone that wants to help you. That wants to support you. That understands what your pain is and how afraid you may be,” the mayor said.

Theresa Nihill, chief operating officer of Metropolitan Family Services, said the city’s new collaborative approach will focus initially on South Chicago, Englewood, West Englewood and Chicago Lawn “with the hope that, if we do this right, we can expand this across the city.”

“We want to reach the perpetrators who often fall through the cracks. We won’t be calling the police. We want to build a safe and trusting space for these persons to learn, to heal and to make amends,” she said.

“We recognize that this will be a very new approach. It’s gonna be really hard. ... [But] all of us working together seeing the persons who cause harm through the lens of trauma, we believe, can help these persons and their victims heal and break this cycle.”

Amanda Pyron serves as executive director of The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence. That’s the organization chosen to partner with the Chicago Department and Family and Support Services and operate the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline.

Pyron noted 83% of the 2021 domestic violence shooting victims and 86% of domestic violence homicide victims were Black. A record number of those shooting victims were under 18.

One of the Network’s providers has a five-month wait for counseling services, so one Chicago survivor went to Joliet for services they couldn’t get in Chicago. Requests for legal services were up 125% last year.

“We look forward to the city announcing an open call for funding for additional legal services for survivors of gender-based violence in the coming weeks. We also look forward to additional investments in housing and continued refinement of the process through which survivors can obtain safe housing, as shelter beds have been full every day this year,” Pyron said.

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