Story by: Jennifer Cacciapaglia

What a difference 14 months makes. In January 2018, we officially began the work of the Mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention. In that time, we’ve made substantial progress confronting the scourge of domestic violence and human trafficking (DV/HT) in our community. Among our accomplishments:

• We examined the data behind DV/HT and its impact on our community and are developing a working task force to address the gaps.

• We held interviews and listening sessions with more than 260 DV/HT survivors and partner organizations throughout the community.

• We created a Juvenile Enhanced Response Team (JVERT), a multi-disciplinary team that meets regularly to help respond to juveniles in crisis, particularly those at risk for human trafficking victimization or becoming violent offenders due to experiencing domestic violence.

• We trained nearly 200 area educators and administrators in identifying and responding to domestic violence and human trafficking. That event yielded a working group to identify next steps and support needed to provide educators with resources and training to implement meaningful tools in our schools.

• Partnering with the 17th Judicial Circuit Domestic Violence Coordinated Courts, we began training first responders on how to identify and respond to survivors exhibiting signs of human trafficking and domestic violence. This training includes teaching signs of strangulation in DV survivors, an indicator of future lethality.

A vital component of both responding to and preventing the prevalence of DV/HT in our community is establishing a Family Justice Center in Rockford (FJC). Both in the US and internationally, FJCs are one-stop locations for survivors to seek the services, support and programs they need.

We laid the groundwork for this early in 2018, earning a $450,000 federal grant to assist in our strategic planning and implementation for an FJC. We raised $65,000 in private funding to engage with the Alliance for HOPE International to develop strategic plans for an FJC and received a $13,000 grant from the Smith Charitable Foundation for team training and technical assistance to develop a FJC.

Just two weeks ago, we hosted a two-day study tour with Casey Gwinn, President and CEO of the Alliance for HOPE International, and his team. Gwinn, the former district attorney in San Diego, is the visionary behind the FJC movement and the Alliance is assisting the strategic planning process for an FJC in Rockford.

Alliance for HOPE International and its allied FJCs serve more than 150,000 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and their children each year in the United States. The Alliance supports Family Justice/Multi-Agency Centers in 40 states and 25 countries and trains more than 10,000 multi-disciplinary professionals every year.

During the two-day visit, the team met with representatives from dozens of local organizations, including law enforcement, judicial system, medical professionals, and service agencies, to learn about the services they provide to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and trafficking.

Our next steps are aggressive and build on the foundation we’ve already constructed:

• We will host a two-day strategic planning site visit with the Alliance for Hope International on May 29-30 to begin developing a vision for our FJC.

• We’re working with RPS 205 to create a survivor-informed teen dating violence policy.

• We’re enhancing our relationships with local and federal law enforcement partners to support our efforts to disrupt human trafficking in our region.

Mayor Tom McNamara has said often that Rockford’s best asset is its people. We are fortunate to have so many of them engaged in this effort to make Rockford a better and safer community. I look forward to keeping you informed of our efforts.

Read the original story here.