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In 2015, there were 1,389 domestic incidences recorded by the Evanston Police Department. YWCA Evanston/Northshore reports a consistent use of its domestic violence services, with nearly 300 calls to the agency’s emergency hotline, and nearly 100 families who availed themselves of shelter, legal and other services.

“There is an issue here in Evanston,” Wendy Dickson, Director of Domestic Violence Services at the YWCA, told attendees at the PeaceAble Cities meeting held Dec.  6 at the Levy Senior Center.

The meeting focused on the causes, impact, and solutions of domestic violence. Speakers addressed various aspects of the topic.

Impact on Youth and Families

Often the term domestic violence “conjures up images of the 10 o’clock,” said Ms. Dickson, referring to stories and clips of women with black eyes and bruises aired on TV.  There are other types of domestic abuse that usually precede the physical, she said, such as emotional and financial abuse.

While men can also be victims of domestic abuse, the majority of victims are women. One in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, she said.

Relationships with an abuser tend to “start fast and furious.” The man can be “charming and sweeps you off your feet,” said Ms. Dickson. But the relationship often gets “exclusive quickly,” which is a “way to isolate the victim from a support system, from friends.”

It’s often hard to understand why someone stays in an abusive relationship. Statistics show that it takes an average of nine incidents of abuse before a person will leave a relationship for good. Those who want to help victims should “listen, not judge” and not urge the person to leave. Victims “must use their judgement” on when and how to leave an abusive situation, said Ms. Dickson, but “need help to take steps forward.”

Children are deeply affected by abuse situations. Every year, 8.8 million children nationwide witness violence in their home, according to the YWCA, and 50% of men who assault their wives also abuse their children. Many children “resent their mom for coming to a shelter,” said Ms. Dickson, because it takes them away from home and their father. Kids often become angry and “mimic the behavior of the dad,” with name calling and other negative behaviors. These kids carry a great deal of guilt and feel ashamed of their situation. Some become withdrawn. Some take on the caregiver role and try to “be the hero of the family.” On the plus side, the shelter often provides them with other kids to relate to.

“The saddest part is that domestic violence runs in families”, said Ms. Dickson. She told the story of a woman who returned to the YWCA shelter as an adult after having been there with her mother when she was young.

The YWCA provides counseling and support to victims and the families and provides prevention and outreach through school and community programs to help break the cycle of abuse.

Underlying Causes

Offenders are “not easy to spot,” said panelist Brian McHugh of the Alternatives to Violence program. “Not all are monsters.” Abusers come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures and can be the same sex as the victim. 

Statistics show that 86% of domestic violence as well as stalking incidents are perpetrated by men. Every day three or more women nationwide are murdered by a husband or boyfriend, according to Mr. McHugh.

“Male privilege” throughout history gives men an inherent sense of power and control, he said. Roman law gave men life and death authority over their wives. English Law had the “rule of thumb” for the width of a stick a man could legally use to beat a woman.  The media tend to reinforce the image of men as needing to assert emotional control and putting work and status ahead of families. All of this is witnessed by young boys, he said, which is the most significant predictor of engaging in domestic violence later in life. “Domestic violence turns inquisitive, sensitive boys into angry young men,” he said.

Most abusers can be classified as a “cobra” or a “pit bull.” A cobra is a con artist, emotionally unavailable, and more likely to use a weapon.  A pit bull is charming, jealous, explosive, and fears abandonment.

The worst thing to say to a boy when he is upset is “be a man.” Boys require “positive role modeling” and need to learn how to deal with anger and feelings. Men need to be “ambassadors” in the community, challenging other men’s views on women.

Abuse in Evanston

In 1986, the Illinois Domestic Violence Act recognized this type of abuse as a serious crime. The Act recognized any domestic relationship, including unmarried couples, as falling under the law.

In 2015 there were 285 incidents of domestic violence in Evanston that fell into one of three categories: 238 cases of domestic battery, nine cases of domestic aggravated battery, and 38 cases of Violence of Order of Protection.

The Evanston Police Department makes arrests for crimes of violence, and also provides victim and youth services for those affected. Beckie Fischer and Kelli Nelson of the Evanston Police Department Victim Services Bureau told attendees about the many follow-up services provided to victims of domestic abuse, such as crisis intervention, counseling, legal and medical advocacy. They help support and explain legal proceedings to victims, said Ms. Fischer, and also follow up with family and friends of the victim and help connect them to outside agencies and resources.

Ms. Nelson talked about other resources.  Compensation can be received for medical, tuition, time off work, and other related expenses related. The Safe Home Act helps victims terminate their lease without fees. The Automatic Victim Notification system can alert victims when their attacker is released from custody. 

Public Health Concerns

Domestic violence “takes the same path” as an infectious disease or plague, said Evanston Health and Human Services Director Evonda Thomas-Smith, and therefore needs to be treated like one.  To create an epidemic, there needs to be an infected host, someone exposed to the disease, and a resulting cluster of sick individuals. Unless the disease is interrupted, it will continue to spread.  When public health experts look at the data, graphs, and maps of domestic violence in Evanston, they see clusters, said Ms. Thomas-Smith. “We can peel back the layers to see where it began.” 

“The greatest predictor of domestic violence is an initial case of domestic violence,” she said. After a case of violence is identified, “we must interrupt the spread” with education. “We know this process works [with disease epidemics] and we believe it can work with domestic violence.”

Here are two local resources for victims of domestic abuse:

YWCA Evanston/Northshore toll-free crisis line: 877-718-1868; 24-hour crisis line: 847-864-8780.

Evanston Police Department Victims Services: 847-866-5015; Youth Services: 847-866-5017.