Domestic violence survivors fear more than abuse, Illinois

CHICAGO, Ill. (WIFR) – The consequence of domestic violence calls for immediate corrective action. But a recent study in Illinois shows that survivors aren’t reaching out for help out of fear of possible repercussions.

The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence on Monday released the 2022 edition of “Measuring Safety,” a report tracking domestic violence, sexual violence, and survivors’ experiences with recovery service providers in Illinois. Data gathered from interviews, service providers and public agencies, including the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline, law enforcement, the Department of Children and Family Services offers key notes on why survivors feel so torn between reaching out for help and accepting the abuse as a lifestyle.

While Illinois’ population grows and calls to the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline are up 9% this year, the number of survivors reaching out to law enforcement continues to decline, down 5% from last year. And there’s a consistent reason for those numbers.

Survivors say that when faced with law enforcement, the legal system and pressure from family members, the unknown feels scarier than what they’ve already experienced. Many involved in domestic violence situations don’t want to press charges, because they’re afraid of what is going to happen to the abuser, their children or themselves.

Often unable to access resources meant to support them like subsidized housing and public benefits, less than 6% of those who applied were housed in 2022.

“Addressing the survivor as a whole person—one who is parenting, growing up surrounded by violence, in need of economic assistance, and may require mental or physical health care—is critical,” says Olivia Farrell, Director of Policy, Advocacy and Research at The Network.

When police are involved in domestic violence cases, survivors’ say their experiences are overwhelmingly negative. Interviews “[I was] met with denial and accused of lying,” “[I] just wish that law enforcement took this a lot more seriously,” “I feel very cynical and just devastated that this is how this process works,” when asked their experience with police in their situation.

Awareness campaigns that connect survivors to community-based resources are crucial. Ninety percent of survivors interviewed were unfamiliar with community-based resources. Awareness campaigns are vital so that survivors know they have options.

Not only does violence continue to rise across Illinois; the racial disparities between afflicted ethnic groups are staggering. Over 86% of people killed in domestic violence related homicides were Black, far overrepresented compared to population demographics; due in large part to systemic violence. This is why financial investments in gender-based violence services need to continue. They work along with direct, community-based services and provide options for those in or fearful of the criminal justice system.

Community-based services that are trauma-informed, offer other needed services like childcare, financial assistance, and have fewer barriers to access, build a safety net for survivors and their families.

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