JUNE 19, 2020 – Normally when the Court Advocates from Crisis Center for South Suburbia visit the Fifth and Sixth Cook County Municipal District Courthouses in Markham and Bridgeview to provide resources and support to victims of domestic violence, the buildings are bustling with people and activity.
Since mid-March the courthouses have been eerily quiet, as most hearings and trials have been postponed due to emergency restrictions enacted at the start of the pandemic. Judges are still hearing domestic violence cases, so the Crisis Center’s Court Advocates have continued to be present at the courthouses regularly to provide essential services to victims in person.
The Crisis Center’s Court Advocates inform victims of their rights under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, serve as a liaison in the judicial system and assist victims to obtain Orders of Protection to keep them safe from their abusers. They also provide informational materials about other legal remedies and victim resources, as well as follow up services to review their safety plan and court case.
During March, April and May the Crisis Center’s Court Advocates assisted 115 domestic violence victims in obtaining Orders of Protection at the Fifth and Sixth District Courthouses, and fielded hotline calls about Orders of Protection from victims of domestic violence throughout Cook County.
“We are an essential service, and victims of domestic violence need these services. We have a wonderful group of employees who are dedicated to ensuring those services continue to be delivered,” said Barbara Gruca, Interim Director of Advocacy Services for the Crisis Center for South Suburbia. “Domestic violence victims need to know their rights when it comes to housing, legal, medical, employment and other areas, so educating the victims – as well as police, the courts, and others in the criminal and civil legal systems – is extremely important.”
Because the Crisis Center’s Court Advocates are among the few people visiting the courthouses during the pandemic, the sheriff’s departments, state’s attorneys and courthouse staff have gotten a closer firsthand look at the services the advocates provide for domestic violence victims.
“It’s really enhanced our relationship with them and increased their appreciation for our advocates,” Gruca said. “We recently got a call from a court reporter thanking us for continuing to do what we’re doing.”
One Crisis Center Advocate said she has been making regular phone calls to support a domestic violence victim who has not yet been able to come to the courthouse due to health issues. When she is ready, the Crisis Center will provide transportation for her.
“Every time I call her she is so happy and excited to hear from someone who is looking out for her,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about. Things may be different right now, but I’m just focused on helping the victims.”
The advocates and domestic violence victims have been practicing safe social distancing for their in-person meetings since the beginning of the pandemic and have used Zoom access for victims at the courthouses for their hearings.
Crisis Center Advocates also collaborate with 21 local police departments through the Crisis Center’s Law Enforcement and Victim Outreach (LEAV) program to identify and support victims of domestic violence. While the advocates have not been able to visit the departments in person during the pandemic, they have continued to partner with police to provide victims with crucial resources and support. Police departments have continued to collaborate with the advocates so the Crisis Center can reach out to the victims. During March, April and May, the advocates read 1,004 police reports and followed up with 857 victims to offer confidential assistance and information.
Gruca said some of the police departments with whom the Crisis Center collaborates have reported an increase in domestic violence calls since the pandemic began. Violence can escalate as victims are trapped in close quarters with their abusers, but this constant close proximity means some victims may be unable to call for help.
As a testament to the crucial frontline services the Crisis Center provides to domestic violence victims, CSX Transportation awarded the Crisis Center a $5,000 First Responder grant this spring.
“They really support first responders, and because of our impressive work with local police departments, they recognize our services as vital,” said Lorri Nagle, Director of Development for the Crisis Center.
The Crisis Center has been a beacon of hope and educated more than 60,000 people over the past 40 years. To learn more about the Crisis Center for South Suburbia, visit www.crisisctr.org.