Women, and Children: Domestic Violence in Galesburg

(My blog this week was written by Djaq Morris, a political science major at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, her first investigative article for Unify Galesburg.)

John, the man who sat across the desk from me, was alive because of a miss of less than a centimeter. That centimeter was the distance between his spinal cord and the puncture in his back where his girlfriend stabbed him with a screwdriver. That narrow separation was enough to put John in the emergency room instead of in the morgue. When he was released from the hospital, he still walked stiffly from his injury. His forearms were bruised and deeply scratched by the nails of his (now ex-) girlfriend, from when he’d held his arms up to defend himself from her blows. He’d never hit a woman in his life and wasn’t willing to start, even as the woman he loved became increasingly violent.

Another one of these stories came from a woman called Maryanne. Maryanne had been married to her husband for almost 20 years. The couple had two children together. The husband was the sole provider for the family, and Maryanne was afraid that her children would be left without access to basic necessities if she were to leave him. She first began to consider divorcing him after he beat her with one of her shoes. When she took pictures on her phone of the bruise to bring to court as evidence, he took her phone away from her and deleted the images. Over several months, the abuse intensified. Maryanne was so frightened of being home with her husband that she was unable to eat. When I met her she weighed roughly 90 pounds, less than her twelve year old daughter. When her husband, an avid gun owner, started saying that he would shoot her if she ever served him with divorce papers, she knew she had to get help. As she said, she would “rather have nothing and just not be afraid.”

These are just two stories behind more than three hundred domestic violence cases filed in Knox County between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.

In the time you’ve spent reading this article, almost 40 people in this country have been physically abused. An average of 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner every 60 seconds in the United States. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by their intimate partner. This does not consider the family violence that is between household members who are not intimately involved. (Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to attack.) In line at a busy grocery store, odds are at least one person behind you will be a victim of domestic violence in his or her lifetime. At the gas station, on average one or more of the other drivers parked at the pumps will be victimized.

In last calendar year, the Galesburg police department received 1,865 domestic violence calls. That works out to about one every five hours. As one Galesburg police officer estimated, domestic violence calls account for 25-35% of all calls made to the police. Safe Harbor, Galesburg’s only support organization for domestic violence survivors, received 2,467 calls in the last year. The organization provided aid to 986 men, women, and children in the period between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017. In this same time period, approximately 311 Emergency Orders of Protection were filed.

Based on NCADV statistics and information obtained from the Galesburg Police Department, the per capita rate of domestic violence in Galesburg in 2014 was almost 11 times higher than the state average. According to both The Chicago Tribune and CNN, Chicago has a higher violent crime rate than Galesburg. In spite of Galesburg’s lower crime rate, statistics derived from Chicago Police Department indicate that the per capita rate of domestic violence is 120% higher in Galesburg than it is in Chicago.

These statistics are quite conservative since they derive from reported incidents of domestic violence. On the authority of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 40% of family violence is not reported to the police. In applying this statistic to Galesburg, the roughly two thousand domestic violence complaints received by the Galesburg Police Department this year actually reflects more than 3,100 instances of domestic violence. In a town of less than 31,000, that’s a per capita rate of more than 10%. That 10% rate is only looking at the last year- from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. The 1-in-3 / 1-in-4 national statistic reflects a lifetime. Four Safe Harbor employees were available for interview: Patti, Hope, Denise, Kathy, and Jill. According to Denise, domestic violence is so rarely reported because because (people) are too afraid to ask for help, or [don’t] recognize [that] they are in an abusive relationship.”

For every two Orders of Protection there is at least one more that never makes it to court. For instance, per every two orders of protection requested on behalf of children who had been sexually abused, there is probably a third child whose case will never be heard.

The 2015 revised edition of the Illinois Domestic Violence Act (“the Act”) of 1986 defines domestic violence as “physical abuse, harassment, intimidation of a dependent, interference with personal liberty or willful deprivation but does not include reasonable direction of a minor child by a parent or a person in loco parentis” (750 ILCS 60/103).

This definition might not be what you expect when you think of domestic violence. Domestic violence is not confined to physical aggression and violence; according to state law, emotional and psychological abuse are also forms of domestic violence. Domestic violence can be physical, but it can also be keeping someone from something they need to survive (such as food, shelter, or medication), forcing someone to change their routines in order to feel safe, doing something that is unnecessarily bothersome and makes the other person feel emotionally distressed, or even threatening to do any of those things.

As Denise explained, the main cause of domestic violence is the abuser’s need for power and control. This follows a pattern called the Cycle of Violence. The Cycle of Violence begins with a “honeymoon” stage where the abuser is apologetic and promises to do better. During this stage, the abuser is not violent; they may be loving, gentle, and trying to make amends. Slowly, tension builds, and as the abuser realizes he’s losing control, the situation escalates. Other forms of abuse are likely as the abuser tries to take back control of the victim. These can include emotional abuse, coercion, threats, intimidation, economic abuse, isolation, making threats involving children, and finally minimizing, denying, or blaming the victim for the abuser’s behavior. All of these forms of abuse are made effective by the constant threat of violence. As the pressure builds, the cycle breaks out into its third stage: violence. When the violence finally ends, the abuser apologizes and promises to do better. The cycle begins again.

Perhaps the greatest victims of the Cycle of Violence are children who grow up in violent homes. These children learn that violence is normal, and they are more likely to abuse their own families once they reach adulthood. One New York Times article postulated “about one-third of people who are abused in childhood will become abusers themselves.” As Kathy, another Safe Harbor worker, said, this is why it is important to teach children from “an early age that violence isn’t okay.”

There are some common misconceptions about domestic violence.

One misconception is that men cannot be victims of domestic violence. Misconceptions about domestic violence perpetrated against men can be deadly. It is true that women are still more likely to be victims of violence than men, however, the Bureau of Justice states that in 24% of domestic abuse committed the victim is male. Since men are far less likely to report domestic violence than women, the Center of Disease Control estimates that this statistic is actually closer to 40%. Many men do not report domestic violence because they are under the impression that there is no help available to them. Yet, the language in the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of is gender neutral, indicating that domestic violence is violation of people of every gender. In Knox County, both the courthouse and Safe Harbor offer equal services to male and female victims. The pressure of living up to male stereotypes can deter men from seeking out the services available in Knox County. Denise stated that “many men do not seek services because of the stereotype and embarrassment.”

Another common misunderstanding is that the victim of domestic violence has done something to antagonize the abuser. One person who was victimized due to this misconception was a woman named Beth, whose arms and shoulders were bruised a purple that was almost black. In court, she held her arms protectively over her stomach. The day before she had suspected that she was pregnant. That night her boyfriend kicked her in the groin, so hard that she “flew backwards.” Afterwards, Beth began to experience the early symptoms of miscarriage. She was able to speak clearly about these experiences, her voice only wavering slightly as she described her boyfriend battering her. When she talked about her possible pregnancy, she began to cry. “If he made me lose this baby…” she began, but couldn’t finish.

At her hearing, the judge asked questions, all fairly standard, until he asked what she’d done to rile up her boyfriend. Beth was understandably confused. “I was asleep,” she said. She had gone to bed early, and her boyfriend had stormed into their room later that night and started beating her.
The judge rephrased the question: when her boyfriend had been violent in an incident several months before, what had she done to antagonize him?
“I tried to break up with him,” she said.
“Well, it sounds like this all should have ended in December,” the judge said, in reference to the earlier incident.
“He was going to anger management classes,” she said. “I thought he was getting better.”
Excuses for violence can be as absurd as “the baby was crying,” “dinner was cold,” and “the TV was too loud.” People who hurt the people they are closest to will find always find an excuse afterwards. As Patti, said, “Anger isn’t an issue. Anger management doesn’t work. Classic domestic violence isn’t about someone losing control, it’s about someone keeping control over another person.” Victim blaming makes survivors feel like no one is willing to help them, which could lead them to stay in a toxic situation rather than attempting to leave.But there is help available. In spite of the ignorant questions from the judge, the woman’s request for protection was granted.

Domestic violence is not the victim’s fault because they didn’t leave the abuser. Victims have many reasons for staying with their abusers. Some are manipulated to stay out of fear the abuser will hurt himself or others if the victim leaves. Some stay because they believe that families belong together, as was the case for Vanessa, whose highly intoxicated partner smacked their five year old in the face with a leather belt before ramming his truck into Vanessa’s car.

Some people stay for financial reasons. For instance, if they believe they can’t afford to support themselves. This was the case for Emma, who went back to her emotionally and psychologically abusive husband because she had been diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t afford to pay for chemotherapy without him. Others, like Beth, who was described above, stay because they believe their partner is trying to do better. Survivors also stay with abusive partners to protect their children. One elderly couple- Dan and Barbara- tried to avoid filing for protection from their adult grandson because his parents were dead and they didn’t want to isolate him from the only family he had left. This led them to put off asking for protection, even after their grandson had showed up on their back porch, high on meth, and threatened to shoot them both.

There is a common misunderstanding that abuse will end when substance abuse does, and that once an assailant is sober they will stop being violent. This is not the case.

None of these reasons make it acceptable for these people to be hurt. No one deserves abuse, even if they stay with their abuser. People who cannot or will not leave are as equally deserving of protection as people who leave a family member at the first sign of trouble. For most, leaving is a process that takes more than one try. For some people, the first time they leave they are testing the people around them, trying to see if they will be able to get the support they need to leave permanently.

If someone is in an abusive home and they live in Galesburg, there are three basic options open to them: call Safe Harbor, call the police, or file an Order of Protection.

If someone calls Safe Harbor, they can access services including the following:

  • referrals to community resources
  • safety planning
  • long-term planning to facilitate leaving the relationship
  • emotional support
  • assistance with Orders of Protection
  • assessments of immediate concerns
  • help with immediate needs
  • counseling referrals for children
  • weekly support group meetings
  • legal referrals
  • communication with the State’s Attorney’s office
  • court advocacy

Safe Harbor also partners with agencies that provide economic services, food pantries, and legal aid.

However, Safe Harbor can only work with cases that have been reported, or where the victim has sought help. Safe Harbor cannot help the potentially hundreds of people whose cases go unreported each year. While it seems like the easiest solution is to have every domestic violence survivor come forward, there are many reasons why a victim may be unwilling or unable to get help. According to Denise, people may not seek help because they’re financially dependent on their abuser, afraid of retaliation, embarrassment, shame, and the stigma of being a victim of abuse. Largely, this is out of concern about the impact on their children and the fear of losing their children.

As Jill put it, “Most domestic violence victims feel very alone and confused as a result of the abuse. Victims often feel they have nowhere to turn – they may worry no one will believe them, they may blame themselves for the abuse, and they may fear their abuser will hurt them, their children, or their pets if they reveal the abuse to anyone outside their home.”

If the situation is more urgent and someone needs an immediate response, a survivor might call the police. If you or people you know are in a life threatening situation, call 911. Having a gun present in a home with domestic violence increases the risk of homicide by 500%. The situation can even become deadly if other weapons are involved and the situation escalates, such as what happened with John, the man described at the beginning of the article who was stabbed with a screwdriver.

A longer term plan often involves filing for a protective order . There are three types of protective orders in Illinois: Orders of Protection (OPs), Stalking No Contact Orders, and Civil No Contact Orders If granted, protective orders require the person they are filed against to stay away. Blank copies of these protective orders are available at the courthouse. There is no fee to file for any of these orders. However, as advocates like to say, OPs aren’t bullet-proof vests. But they do provide incentive for the respondent (the person the OP is filed against) to comply; the first violation of an OP is a misdemeanor and subsequent violations are felonies.

OPs are designed specifically for use between those with dating, family, or caregiver relationships. The person filing for an OP, the petitioner, can ask for an emergency hearing if their situation is urgent. This usually enables them to get in front of a judge the same day. If the survivor is being abused by someone with which they don’t have an intimate, familial, or caregiver relationship,they can instead file a Stalking No Contact Order. If the survivor and abuser know each other because of sexual assault and do not fit qualify for an OP, they can file a Civil No Contact Order.

The Stalking No Contact Order and the OP have a few other key differences, though.While the OP only requires one incident of abuse, the Stalking No Contact Order requires two. Also, OPs provide more in-depth remedies in the petition including temporary custody and visitation determinations, the return of property, and economic remedies. The Stalking No Contact Order merely requires the respondent to stay away from and avoid contact with the petitioner.. Because OPs provide more remedies, they take a lot longer to complete. OPs are a total of 42 pages long, while Stalking No Contact Orders are only12 pages in length. The length of the OP makes it difficult to fill out alone, especially if you are already tired, emotionally drained, or physically hurt. Safe Harbor offers to help people fill out OPs. If you can afford an attorney, he or she can help you with this. Or, there is free legal self-help available at the courthouse. Check with the circuit clerks on the first floor for additional information.

There are several common misconceptions about OPs. The Galesburg police often recommend the OP as a one-size-fits-all solution and often tell people to fill out an OP without realizing that it has a relationship requirement. Sometimes the police will recommend people to fill them out for issues besides domestic violence, because the OP offers remedies related to other issues. But if your issue does not pertain to domestic violence, you can probably find some other legal recourse and that legal recourse probably won’t require you to fill out a 42 page packet.

There can be a cost to getting out of a domestic violence situation. One patron, Jessica, was willing to give up her job, her home, and the support of her family in order to get protection for her 10-year-old daughter. Jessica sought an OP after her fiancé said the girl could only stay with them if he was allowed to sleep with her. The cost of leaving is justified by the life that comes after someone has escaped from abuse. Anotherwoman, Joanne, said after her divorce from her abuser was finalized, that her injuries from abuse were noted at a doctor’s appointment. She couldn’t wait to go to the follow-up appointment to share that she’d divorced the man who hurt her and that he would never hurt her again.

The persistent oppression of situations like these is such that victims often doesn’t realize that there’s a way out. Often, restraining order applicants will remain stoic throughout the process of filing paperwork and being questioned by the judge. But when the gavel falls and the order is granted, they begin to sob with a relief they thought they would never experience. The best part of working with domestic violence survivors is seeing how their lives change after they leave. As one Safe Harbor employee put it, “…they’re doing fine- they’re well, they’re happy.. they’ve gotten their lives back.”

If you’re in a domestic violence situation, know that you are not alone. There are many other people experiencing what you are and even if you feel isolated and helpless, know that there is help available.

For those who have not experienced domestic violence first hand, you can still help those who are being impacted. The best way to help survivors of domestic violence is to educate yourself on the issue. Learn to recognize the Cycle of Violence. Be aware of others who may need help, even if they are unable to ask for it. If someone does come to you for help, “Believe that person,” Kathy encouraged. “He or she may be telling their story for the first time.” For those who don’t come forward on their own, Denise recommends, “Learn[ing] the red flag warning signs that might go unnoticed in a victim of DV.  Victims are in our everyday lives. Be a listening ear for someone who may need it.”

If you are a survivor of domestic violence and need help, here are some helpful contacts and resources:

Safe Harbor
(309) 343- 7233
The Safe Harbor 24 hour Crisis Line can be reached at: (309) 343-7233 / (309) 343-SAFE

Safe Harbor can help with all the steps of leaving an abusive household, including legal advocacy, finding shelter, and making an exit plan. They provide many other services along the way. If you are in Knox County and need help with a domestic violence situation, Safe Harbor is able to address more of your needs than any other organization. Additionally, Safe Harbor workers are completely confidential.

Prairie State Legal Services
(309) 343- 2141

National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799- 7233

(Djaq Morris is my granddaughter)

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