By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — The source of a domestic violence study has been tapped to run the city’s newly formed Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention.
Rockford lawyer Jennifer Cacciapaglia was commissioned by the city early in Mayor Tom McNamara’s term to shore up data regarding the city and countywide prevalence of domestic violence. Her 13-page report released last fall showed that in Rockford, 5,240 reported incidents of domestic violence were filed in 2016 and nearly 5,000 a year earlier. There were 2,826 orders of protection filed in Winnebago County in 2016 and almost that many in 2017.
Those results, city officials say, are indicative of McNamara’s message that domestic violence is a multi-generational problem that weaves its way into other crimes. Aldermen approved the city office last November.
Cacciapaglia has been an advocate of victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse for most of her career. In 2013, she co-founded the Rockford Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (RAASE), an organization that aims to end demand for sex trafficking through city-county partnerships. She was also a facilitator for the Amanda Reed Foundation and headed Transform Rockford’s public safety spoke, highlighting the need to curb domestic violence.
“She is the ideal person for this position,” McNamara said. “She has a breadth and depth of experience with these difficult topics that is unmatched in the area.”
Cacciapaglia will begin her position Jan. 22 at a salary of $82,000. She’ll work with the city’s existing network of domestic violence and sex trafficking service providers along with law enforcement agencies throughout the county.
The office will not be a policing agency, however. It will focus on centralizing existing services. But with domestic violence and sex crimes on the rise, Cacciapaglia’s role will also be to analyze existing programs to determine the need for additional ones.
The announcement comes as January is recognized as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Month and in stride with the mayor’s focus on public safety. And because Rockford is the second-worst city in Illinois for sex trafficking, and Illinois No. 8 in the country, the need to get the office up and running may have never been greater. There are about 500 runaways each year in Rockford, many of whom are domestic violence victims who end up sex-trade victims.
“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 in an earlier report.
In addition to her position in the city’s legal department, Cacciapaglia was an assistant state’s attorney between 1998 and 2000. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Southern Illinois University in 1995 and a Juris Doctor from Northern Illinois University College of Law in 1998.
“I am honored to work on such important issues in our community,” Cacciapaglia said. “I’m grateful to this administration and city council for recognizing the need for this office. I look forward to working to build a meaningful collaborative community response to these critical issues.” R.