Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Aldermen hear proposal for domestic violence center

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD — The director of the city office aimed at stopping domestic violence and human trafficking says expansion is necessary to properly deal with what is quickly becoming a deadly issue.

Jennifer Cacciapaglia, along with Rockford Police Lt. Kurt Whisenand, told aldermen Monday that she’s working on plans to open the Family Justice Center to help overhaul how the court and law enforcement systems serve domestic violence victims.

“When we talk about the response of the criminal justice system and the medical community, specifically with the criminal justice system, quite frankly it is not set up to support survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault,” Cacciapaglia said. “The criminal justice system relies on a victim who is cooperative, anxious to testify in court, and in demand of justice. The system is just not set up in those areas to support these survivors.”

The proposed Family Center would house social services and dedicated law enforcement personnel in the same place. It would also be a safe haven in times of crisis.

For now, Cacciapaglia is looking into a host of grants, about $450,000 worth, to get the project off the ground. If the funds are not awarded, the office would seek funding from other sources. Cacciapaglia added that the time to reign in as much support as possible is now.

There have already been six domestic-violence related homicides in Winnebago County this year and there’s every indication that number could easily rise as 34 percent of violent crimes reported in Rockford during 2018 involved domestic violence, up from 23 percent in 2015.

“What we are missing in our community is a holistic, organized SANE response, so a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner response at all three hospitals that is consistent,” Cacciapaglia added.

Cacciapaglia said what is also missing are services to help survivors from the moment they leave or attempt to leave an abusive situation throughout the process of restoration. Filling that gap will begin with better equipped first responders. The current system is reactive in nature, one where police do the majority of their work after a crime has occurred.

“Our law enforcement is expected to do too much too late in these situations,” Cacciapaglia said. “By the time it gets to law enforcement, we have missed so many opportunities to intervene in these crimes to try to keep them from happening.”

Whisenand said the key is engaging youth–namely boys–before patterns take hold. A growing number of boys witness abuse of all kinds on a daily basis, making them desensitized to it and more likely to become offenders themselves. That is why the Rockford Police Department is the main partner with Cacciapaglia’s Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking. How that partnership will play out is still in the works, however.

“We just got the raw data,” Whisenand said. “We are still in the research phase. (We are) identifying high-risk youth who have a high risk of committing violent crimes and try to intervene before they become offenders.”

Intervention is as multi-pronged as the crimes police aim to prevent. Whisenand said programs will include training in life skills and conflict resolution–anything that can teach young people to be non-violent adults.

The department is also analyzing trends in human trafficking, numbers that will be used in a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional effort to conduct intelligence-based investigations.

Besides law enforcement, the Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking is partnering with Winnebago County, Rockford Rescue Mission, Rockford Public School District 205, media, Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the 17th Judicial Family Violence Council, among other organizations.

A site for the Family Justice Center has not been determined. A decision on the grant will be reached this fall. R.

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