Story by: Courtney Sisk

Survivors of domestic abuse discuss ways to structure the Family Peace Center in Rockford Tuesday night.

“Trust is not built in grand gestures, relationships are not built in grand gestures,” says Jennifer Cacciapaglia who works for the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking prevention. “They’re built in little seeds, and it starts with just being kind to somebody.”

The Family Peace Center is designed to welcome victims of abuse, and help them with shelter and safety. “We’re going to create the bar against which other communities will measure themselves at getting at these crimes,” says Cacciapaglia.

Survivors shared the need for childcare, and having a welcoming staff. They expressed fears of the courtroom, and Mayor Tom McNamara says they are working on building a mock courtroom center within for practice.

“To hear their passion and frustration, to see their tears and what’s happened to their lives, I’m hopeful that, that will never happen again,” says McNamara. “I don’t want to go through what I went through tonight. I don’t want to sit in a room, and have survivors be in that room, and they share story after story of how a system through all of our best efforts has failed them,”

That’s why it’s important for organizers to hear straight from the community.

“Instead of being faced with more opposition there should be somewhere you can go to actually receive valuable information and assistance.” -Survivor

“It’s critical, we cannot make the mistake of sitting in our boardrooms from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday making plans for this without asking the community what they would like to see, and what their needs are,” says Cacciapaglia.

A survivor at the forum shared with 23 News how important it was for her to give input.

“I wanted to attend to see what type of services were offered,” she says. “Although my experience with domestic violence stemmed from a past relationships, I still suffer negative effects of that experience to this day.”

She left her abusive situation in 2008 after her husband beat her while holding her newborn. “I realized then that if I didn’t leave he would end up killing me. My other two children were 9 and 3 years old at the time, and witnessed the beatings,” she shares. “You would think that a 3 year old would not remember these things, but they do.”

Her son, now 14, suffered emotional trauma from the experience and seeks medical help after acting out. 75 percent of juveniles arrested for violent crime in Rockford in 2016-2017 either witnessed domestic violence, or were victims themselves.

One of the main barrier issues she contributed to the meeting was the need for a better system in helping survivors in the courtroom. “When you are at an all time low and feeling more helpless than ever, instead of being faced with more opposition there should be somewhere you can go to actually receive valuable information and assistance.”

Mayor McNamara says phase one of the center will include a temporary 10,000 square foot space for survivors. He anticipates this to operate in October 2019.

Read the original story here.