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Recent crimes shine light on domestic violence

ROCKFORD — Two recent Rockford-area crimes have again shone light on domestic violence and the push for the city to have a place for survivors to get services to put their lives back together.

One of those incidents was the fatal shooting of McHenry County Deputy Jacob Keltner, gunned down at a Rockford hotel earlier this month while serving an arrest warrant on central-Illinois parolee wanted on a  bevy of charges. It was not long after the suspected gunman was caught did his arrest record surface – a criminal past that included domestic violence.

A local man’s criminal record also surfaced after he allegedly kidnapped, raped and restrained a woman inside a Roscoe home on March 13. Court records show Matthew Harkey is a registered sex offender and had also been previously charged with domestic-related offenses.

“When I opened the Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking, we were getting maybe one call every 10 days from someone who was in a crisis situation,” Mayor Tom McNamara said. “Now we are getting two to five a week.”

Those calls, the mayor said, are often from victims who have nowhere to turn. They find themselves helpless after suffering abuse at the hands of someone who was likely subjected to some sort of domestic violence themselves. In other words, domestic abuse victims, especially boys, are likely to become perpetrators and exert criminal behavior as men.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, children witness violence in nearly 25 percent of all domestic abuse cases filed in the courts. Other studies have shown girls who witness violence are 15 times more likely to be physically and/or sexually assaulted as adults. Yet over the years, victims have had little resources to escape.

Just 30 years ago, a woman who attempted to file a police report was told to wait three days to make sure she still wished to make the allegations. A woman making sexual assault allegations would be required to pass a polygraph examination. Victims were also often urged by authorities to drop charges after they were filed.

“At least we are past archaic and awful treatment like that,” McNamara said. “But don’t make any mistakes. We still have a tremendous way to go. We are just starting to create a sense of community and a sense of feeling throughout our city about what (victims) need to go through to simply get services that people deserve. And that’s a shame.”

Last month, more than 200 community partners met with domestic violence expert Casey Gwinn to assess how to take the next step to open a Family Justice Center, something McNamara says will provide a haven for survivors and help change local culture and the way the community looks at domestic abuse.

Gwinn, president and CEO of the Alliance for HOPE International, first proposed the Family Justice Center concept in 1989. And when introduces the idea, one of his main goals is to assess whether advocates are ready for such an endeavor. Rockford was no exception.

“With the work that our court system has done, the work that our police and sheriff departments have done and our local nonprofits, the most refreshing thing that (Gwinn) said is, ‘We’re ready,'” McNamara said.

And while the center has not officially opened, the mayor’s office is already making progress.

“We are immediately connecting survivors with 24-7 services through Remedies,” the mayor said. “It’s wonderful and a great step.”

The city received a three-year, $450,000 grant last year to formalize the first step in opening the Family Justice Center. The facility could open within the next 18 months. R.


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