Story by: Chase Cavanaugh
Rockford is working to set up a one-stop shop for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.
In 2016, Rockford was ranked second highest in the state for human trafficking, and domestic violence currently makes up about 30% of the city’s violent crime.
Jennifer Cacciapaglia directs the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention.
Her office was created shortly after the election of Mayor Tom McNamara. Among its many tasks was investigating juvenile violent crimes between 2016 and 2017.
“And 75% of them are cross-referenced in other police reports as being witnesses to or victims of domestic violence in the home,” she said.
One of Cacciapaglia’s key partners is Investigations Lt. Kurt Whisenand with the Rockford Police Department. He cautions that domestic violence isn’t always physical.
“Any time there’s power, control, and manipulation exerted in a relationship — It can be intimidation, it can be psychological trauma,” he said.
Both Whisenand and Cacciapaglia say these more systemic issues are better addressed through social services. That’s why the City of Rockford is working to create a Family Justice Center. This model, created by the nonprofit Alliance for Hope, aims to consolidate social services for survivors in a single location. Cacciapaglia explains:
“I am able to talk to the Police Department. I am able to talk to a state’s attorney’s office and an advocate who is going to be prosecuting my crime. I’m able to talk to a counselor, a crisis counselor, and a long-term counselor for myself. I am able to get my child connected to pediatric counseling services.”
Whisenand says under this new system, police would still be the frontline responders for domestic abuse but survivors would have a more direct line to social services. He says this is especially important because survivors can be reticent to press charges.
“Most cases don’t go to trial. Most cases don’t result in the prosecution or conviction of the offenders,” he said. “For an overwhelming majority of those cases, it’s dependent on those social service providers to get the victim the help that they need.”
Rockford received a $450,000 federal grant in October to start work on the Family Justice Center. For the first 18 months, the money pays for a Project Manager whose goals include creating work teams and operational subcommittees. This may seem bureaucratic, but Cacciapaglia says it’s important to hash out the details among service providers.
“We’re asking 11-14 different agencies to co-locate under one roof, and so what’s that intake process look like? How does that all work, providing the most effective response to survivors and their children?” she said.
After those 18 months have passed, the other half of the grant will pay for the Center’s rent and a director. The city has yet to determine a site for the Family Justice Center but Whisenand says there’s been tremendous progress so far.
“Although we’re all impatient, we’ve moved a lot faster than any of us really anticipated.”
Cacciapaglia says the city aims to open the Family Justice Center by July 2020. Once open, it will provide health, educational, and other services to survivors of domestic abuse and human trafficking, along with their families.
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