Domestic-violence cases up during pandemic, Kane prosecutor says
More cases of domestic violence were filed during the first five months of the COVID-19 pandemic than during the same period last year, Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said Tuesday.
The number of misdemeanor cases filed from March 1 through Aug. 31 increased about 7%, he said during his monthly news conference. There were 548 cases during that period this year, compared to 509 cases in 2019.
McMahon did not have specific numbers for felony cases, but estimated a 10% increase.
In the spring, he reported his office had seen a large increase in child-abuse cases.
"Our fear was we were going to see a similar increase in domestic violence, and unfortunately, we have seen that borne out," McMahon said.
He called it "especially troubling" because prosecutions for domestic violence cases have decreased since 2011.
McMahon said police domestic violence calls in Aurora are up about 6.6% compared to last year, and are up 14% in Elgin. Not all calls result in charges.
Michelle Meyer and La Tonya Walker, executive directors of Mutual Ground of Aurora and Community Crisis Center of Elgin respectively, said calls for their domestic-violence services dipped when the stay-at-home order was issued in March, but began increasing in June.
"It's 10 times harder to get services when you are told to shelter in place," Meyer said, because it is harder for victims to get a moment alone. Walker said the only time one client was alone was when she went for a walk, so her counseling took place over the phone during those walks.
Both said their agencies adjusted how they provided advice, counseling and education, learning to use technology for virtual visits. Meyer said Mutual Ground had a pre-COVID-19 goal of finding ways to serve clients remotely, such as those living on the edge of its service area, the elderly and the disabled. The pandemic made them accelerate their plans.
One silver lining came when the agency had to develop an e-learning platform to teach abuse prevention to students in 100 schools, she said. State law requires children to be taught that. When it is done in person, the educators will usually offer to meet alone with any kids afterward, in case a child wants to report something. But the online program let students do that without their classmates seeing.
"So we are seeing that happening, where kids are more open to disclosing," Meyer said.
Walker said a bottleneck developed in March for CCC's shelter, as capacity was cut in half. It then received a government grant to put people in hotels.
Calls to its abuser-intervention program increased, Walker said. Callers say they are being triggered by being isolated, and ask for help calming down.