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Domestic Violence Cases Go Unreported, Despite Help Resources

Despite the availability of domestic violence resources, some people are deterred from using them. Job constraints, relationships, isolation from families, and the legal system itself are common reasons that keep victims from seeking help, according to Margaret Duval, executive director at the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic.

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Chicago Police Department statistics for the 12th district indicate that up until the Oct. 9, only one domestic battery arrest was made. From Aug. 14 to Sept. 10, there were 32 domestic assault and battery incidences. Since then the number of domestic battery and assault incidences in the 12th district has increased by 52, or 84 incidences total.

Sgt. Rebecca Arguelles said the police department has resources available for domestic abuse victims in the 12th district. These resources can be found on the Chicago’s Clear Path website.

The Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, on 555 W. Harrison St., is one resource for domestic violence victims. The legal clinic offers a variety of services including volunteer help from lawyers, help obtaining emergency protection orders, help with divorce, and child support.

“If they’re working, that’s a day they have to take off from work to go to court,” Duval said. “For people who work, who get limited time off from work or have to pick up their children from school, that’s a huge obstacle.”

Language and specific legal barriers affect some of the domestic violence victims. Estela Melgoza, the Domestic Violence Program Director at the Mujeres Latinas en Accion, said a number of the victims seeking help from their organization only speak Spanish. Both English and the U.S. Law can also be a barrier for undocumented immigrants who seek domestic violence assistance, Melgoza said.

Duval said children tend to imitate violent behavior they see in their home. Children who witness domestic violence and are physically abused are at risk for increased levels of emotional and psychological maladjustment than children who only witness violence and are not abused, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Health Services Administration for Children and Families.

Duval said the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic sees different kinds of domestic abuse cases. The clinic handles cases regarding same-sex relationships. Some cases involve men who are domestic violence victims or people who aren’t in romantic relationships.

Domestic violence does not always take place within a dating or sexual relationship or a marriage. “It could be [between] a brother and sister, a parent and adult child, or an elderly person being abused by a caregiver,” Duval said.

The Domestic Violence Legal Clinic handles about 1,200 cases per year, according to Duval. “Women are about 85 percent of our clients, but about 15 percent of our clients are men,” Duval said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, recognizing men as domestic abuse victims is more difficult. A Mayo Clinic article says that victims of domestic violence may experience their spouse/partner attempting to control finances. He or she blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve and may portray the violence as mutual and consensual.

What these cases have in common are control and power, said Duval. In a dating or intimate relationship, that will manifest itself in intense jealousy or control over someone’s phone or text messages. It could also mean isolation from a person’s friends and family, Duval said.

The definition of domestic abuse is interpreted in different ways. The Illinois Statute defines domestic violence as “physical abuse, harassment, intimidation of a dependent interference with personal liberty or willful deprivation.”

Duval said for the purposes for her work, patterns of control and power are taken into account when taking on domestic violence cases.

“The common misconception of domestic violence is that ‘it’s none of our business,” Officer Alex Errum said. “If you hear your neighbor being beaten, call the police.”

This story was corrected on 11/16/2012.

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