Crime down in Kane County, but domestic violence trend troubling
From 2011 through 2016 the number of felony cases charged in Kane County decreased about 22 percent, and misdemeanor cases in that same period were down about 11 percent.
But cases of misdemeanor domestic battery have hovered around 1,150 to 1,250 each year -- and are probably more prevalent than that because numerous factors contribute to domestic attacks not being reported to authorities.
"Domestic violence is a constant. It crosses all socio-economic boundaries," State's Attorney Joe McMahon said at his monthly media meeting. "Domestic violence is a crime of power. It is a crime of intimidation. It is a crime of emotion."
Michelle Meyer, executive director of Mutual Ground in Aurora, agreed.
"The situation isn't getting better. Domestic violence and sexual assault are not going away," Meyer said. "Where domestic violence breeds is in the shadows. If you come in, we will not judge you. We will believe you. It's a safe environment."
Meyer said Mutual Ground has a three-prong approach of prevention, intervention and ongoing services, such as counseling.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Maureen Manning, director of client services at the Community Crisis Center in Elgin, said people need to learn to settle differences constructively. "Every person deserves safety and respect," she said.
Activists and prosecutors agree domestic violence is a generational issue; people who grow up in an environment where domestic battery and violence occurs will think that behavior is normal and repeat it as adults.
Numerous factors contribute to domestic violence being underreported or victims not wanting to come to court to testify against an abuser. These range from embarrassment and fear of more abuse to losing one's home if a spouse is incarcerated.
"They're genuine reasons of the victim, but they are not reasons that will lead to a change in behavior," McMahon said.
McMahon's office has a diversion program for first-time domestic violence offenders designed to reduce recidivism. If a victim doesn't want to testify, McMahon's office works to introduce evidence such as the victim's initial statement to authorities.
McMahon said he is worried about any factors that could deter a report, including the crackdown on immigration under the Trump administration that could deter undocumented residents from coming to court or taking out an order of protection.
"It's going to be more difficult to identify and locate and serve witnesses who are needed to testify in court against someone who has committed a crime," McMahon said.
"Fear is a huge factor," Manning added, noting it goes beyond immigration status or fear of deportation. "It's fear of retaliation."
The shelters in Aurora and Elgin have several events and fundraisers this month. For more information, visit mutualground.org or crisiscenter.org.