Mayor unveils plan to combat domestic violence, sex trafficking

By Jim Hagerty  Contributor

ROCKFORD — Mayor Tom McNamara is calling for a new city department to combat a growing problem he has long recognized as one that plagues Rockford.

It would be called the Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking. The mayor says it will address both problems, helping officials and the people of Rockford tackle them directly as the city keeps up with best practices across the country.

According to figures compiled by Rockford attorney Jennifer Cacciapaglia in the 13-page report, “Confronting the Problems of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking in Rockford,” the new office would have no shortage of responsibilities. On average, domestic violence accounts for almost 25 percent of Rockford’s violent crime. In 2016, 2,826 emergency orders of protection were filed in Winnebago County.

As of this July, there have been 1,453 have been filed.

In Rockford proper, there were 5,240 incidents of domestic violence reported in 2016, up from 4,990 reported a year earlier.

“It is our moral, social and fiscal responsibility as a community if we have a problem that is significant as domestic violence, to understand the problem, understand the impacts and create a plan to address it,” McNamara said.

And in Rockford, the problem is not single pronged. Gone are the days when domestic violence incidents were dealt with broad brush strokes. The problem is now a multifaceted issue that runs deeper than most realize.

“We are seeing a significant amount of youth who are committing crime (that) have domestic violence somewhere in the background,” the mayor said.

And like so many young people across the country, the abuse is not just the tell-tale battery common to everyday domestic violence calls.

“It’s verbal, sexual and physical abuse,” McNamara added.

Out of 102 counties in Illinois, 16 experienced a domestic violence-related killing in fiscal year 2015. Four occurred in Winnebago County.

Nationally, the cost of domestic violence reaches $6 billion each year, more than $4 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own their own partners and children as adults, the city report shows.

Rockford’s new designation as the second-worst city in Illinois for sex trafficking continues to bolster the state as No. 8 on the list of the most plagued in the country. Last year, there were 498 reported runaways in Rockford, a telling statistic, as many victims who end up as sex slaves and prostitutes are young girls who run away from home. Often finding solace with older handlers, they are promised legitimate jobs only to be coerced into working the streets.

So far this year, four minors have been recovered from sex trafficking rings true in Winnebago County. One was 14, two were 15, and one 17. Each was trafficked by pimps in the northern Illinois region.

McNamara says the new city office would oversee an in-depth review of current city programs related to domestic violence and sex trafficking. The review would drive a task force of community stakeholders comprising business leaders, mental health professionals and schools, among a host of others, who work with together with public safety officials.

In August, McNamara told The Times he was still weighing the best path forward to combat domestic violence in Rockford. “We don’t know if we should just jump in both feet and say we have to have a full-time position right now,” he said. “We’re moving forward, but we’re making sure it’s the right way.”

The mayor’s office spent $6,000 compiling the 13-page “Confronting the Problems of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking in Rockford.”

The next step, McNamara said, is to secure funding sources for the new office and present it to aldermen for approval. R.

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