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New protections for city victims of domestic violence, sexual assault

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

City employees who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault would be guaranteed up to one month of paid leave, under a policy change proposed Monday that coincides with Domestic Violence Awareness month.

“You’re not alone. You’re not isolated. And most importantly, you’re not trapped,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at a City Hall news conference.

“You will not have to make a false choice anymore between receiving care or a paycheck. [The city will be] providing people with…paid time off while they get their lives together.”

The ordinance jointly unveiled by Emanuel and Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) has nothing to do with the “Me Too” campaign inspired by the Hollywood sex scandal that has spread to Springfield.

Nor is it a response to the sexist emails that were among those uncovered in the Department of Water Management, triggering a housecleaning.

Instead, the mayor and O’Shea are focusing exclusively on domestic violence and sexual assault by proposing that victims be guaranteed up to one month of paid leave to get their lives back together.

To qualify, city employees would need to qualify for the Victims Economic Security and Safety Act that requires Illinois employers to provide victims of domestic violence and sexual assault with three months of unpaid leave.

That amounted to just three employees since the state law took effect three years ago.

That makes the rest of the new policy all the more important. It calls for city managers to be trained to recognize the warning signs of domestic violence and sexual abuse and schooled on on the array of programs available to victims so they can communicate those choices to underlings.

“It’s not incumbent upon victims to try to figure out what all of the benefits are. It’s incumbent upon us to make it very easy,” Emanuel said.

“There’s all of this shame that’s associated with it. By taking it out of the shadows and being up-front about it, realizing that you’re not the only victim will change the attitude about asking for help.”

Under questioning at a City Hall news conference, Human Resources Commissioner Soo Choi acknowledged that the sexist emails uncovered by Inspector General Joe Ferguson underscored the need for even more training to change the culture in departments like Water Management, Streets and Sanitation, Fleet Management and Transportation that remain male bastions.

“Our EEO division takes to heart what we’ve been seeing lately,” Choi said, obviously referring to the sexist emails.

“We are in the process of expanding our training–both looking at the content of our training and how we’re administering that training and the wider audience and the messaging we want to set out.”

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44.

O’Shea noted that one of every three women and one of every seven men in the U.S. have experienced stalking, physical violence or rape from an intimate partner during their lifetime.

“Those numbers are a call to action…Chicago is answering that call,” O’Shea said.

The city already has a policy that allows victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse who need to get away from their predators to apply for a waiver from the residency rule that requires all city employees to live in Chicago.

Even so, the Emanuel administration had to be ordered in 2013 to rehire–and give $234,000 in back pay to –an $80,256-a-year budget analyst fired in October 2011 for violating the residency requirement after being forced out of her Chicago home because she was a victim of domestic violence.

The Illinois Department of Labor sided with Valerie Tolson after concluding that Tolson was given “lip service” in her request for a residency “waiver” and that City Hall “had no clear and established policy” for making “workplace accommodations” for victims of domestic violence, as required by state law.

At the time, Tolson accused Emanuel of hypocrisy for creating a domestic violence task force and building a shelter for battered women while thumbing his nose at the state law that was supposed to protect victims of domestic violence from workplace discrimination.

City Hall responded to the ruling by noting that Tolson’s claims were made before Emanuel took office when there was “not a clear” policy in place for complying with the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act.

The ordinance unveiled Monday was drafted with help from “Chicago Says No More.” That’s a coalition of business, philanthropic and civic leaders and non-profit organizations united in their desire to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.