How an online recipe for banana bread is helping domestic violence survivors

  • A website created by the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire and Highland Park-based North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic might look like a simple banana bread recipe with some related tips, but look closer and you'll find a guide of resources and suggestions for domestic abuse survivors in need of assistance.

    A website created by the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire and Highland Park-based North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic might look like a simple banana bread recipe with some related tips, but look closer and you'll find a guide of resources and suggestions for domestic abuse survivors in need of assistance. Courtesy of Vernon Area Public Library

  • Among the features on BananaBreadHelp.com are a description and video explaining the Violence at Home Signal for Help, a hand gesture victims can use discreetly on a video call or in person to indicate they are in an unsafe situation and need assistance.

    Among the features on BananaBreadHelp.com are a description and video explaining the Violence at Home Signal for Help, a hand gesture victims can use discreetly on a video call or in person to indicate they are in an unsafe situation and need assistance. Courtesy of Vernon Area Public Library

  • Some of the clothing donated by Naperville-based Suits for Success was on display Tuesday at the DuPage County jail.

      Some of the clothing donated by Naperville-based Suits for Success was on display Tuesday at the DuPage County jail. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick talks about the importance of the clothing donated for women by Suits for Success.

      DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick talks about the importance of the clothing donated for women by Suits for Success. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Former Northbrook police Chief Charles "Chuck" Wernick

    Former Northbrook police Chief Charles "Chuck" Wernick

 
Updated 10/23/2020 8:36 AM

What do an online recipe for banana bread and a host of tips for making it have to do with helping survivors of domestic violence?

Nothing, and that's the point.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Recognizing that it's not uncommon for an abuser to track a partner's phones and browsing history, the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire and Highland Park-based North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic have teamed up to create BananaBreadHelp.com, an inconspicuous-looking website that lets survivors seek help without leaving telltale digital bread crumbs behind.

At first blush, the site appears exactly as billed -- it opens to an image of sliced bread atop a cutting board, with a list of ingredients and instructions below. Above it are links labeled "Start with the Best Bananas," "Kitchen Helpers" and "Baking Tips."

But look closer and you'll see not all is as it seems. Click the links and you'll find subtly disguised videos offering information on how to identify domestic violence, how to leave an abusive relationship, legal rights, and protections available to immigrants who might hesitate about reaching out for help. The videos are closed-captioned so they can be watched without sound.

Elsewhere, visitors will find phone numbers for domestic violence hotlines and emergency shelters, plus information about legal assistance.

"A person that might be in an abusive relationship might also have their phone or computer checked, so we wanted to create something discreet where they could go," said Ashley Johnson, business outreach librarian at the Vernon Area Public Library.

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Johnson partnered with the legal aid clinic to create the website and produce its videos. The effort -- timed to mark October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month -- is part of the library's mission to help area nonprofits, she said.

Among the site's other features is information and a video about the Violence at Home Signal for Help, a hand gesture victims can use discreetly on a video call or in person to indicate they are in an unsafe situation and need assistance.

Those behind the "website in disguise" said the kind of help it offers is needed more than ever. The pandemic has led to a spike in domestic violence, and pandemic safety measures have left survivors more isolated than usual.

"Domestic abuse is a prevalent issue facing every community," said Susan Shulman, executive director of the North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic. "This year is quite unique as we all know COVID-19 has had a significant impact on those harmed by domestic violence and by extension the work that we do to address this issue in our communities and support survivors. We have seen a 44% increase in cases with no end in sight."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Anyone with questions about the program or wishing to disseminate the materials through their own channels can contact the clinic at (847) 737-4042 or info@NSLegalaid.org.

Kristen Ziman
Kristen Ziman -
Ziman a hot commodity

For the second time this year, Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman has caught the eye of a major city looking for a new top cop.

This time it's Nashville, Tennessee. Mayor John Cooper on Monday named Ziman one of five finalists for the city's open police chief post, according to the Tennessean newspaper.

The paper reported that the finalists will meet with an interview panel next Thursday and Friday, then have sessions with Cooper, public safety employees and community leaders.

We reached out to Ziman, but she took a pass on commenting, saying, "I don't want to distract from the overall process."

Ziman this spring was one of three finalists for Chicago police superintendent before former Dallas Chief David Brown was hired.

Joshua Minniti
Joshua Minniti -
New sentence in slaying

Joshua Minniti was just 15 on Oct. 21, 2001, when he broke into an Aurora woman's home, hit her with a crowbar more than 25 times and raped her before she died. It was a crime so vicious that the judge who heard his trial said "the words 'brutal' and 'heinous' do not adequately describe the degree of depravity."

That judge sentenced Minniti to 79 years in prison, later stating in court that if it means the teen spends the rest of his life behind bars, "I don't have a real issue with that."

But a state appeals court does. In a ruling handed down nearly 19 years to the day of Minniti's murder of 57-year-old Irma Braun, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court ordered a new -- and presumably shorter -- sentence for the now 34-year-old man.

In the unanimous ruling, the court found that the prison term, leaving Minniti ineligible for parole until 2079, is a de facto life sentence. Such lengthy terms have been ruled unconstitutional for juveniles through a number of precedents.

"While we agree that the circumstances of this offense are horrific, (precedent) makes clear that the trial court cannot impose a de facto life sentence without determining that the defendant was beyond rehabilitation," Justice Mary Seminara-Schostok wrote. "Because such a determination is not clear from the record, and in light of the evolving case law since the defendant's sentence, we find it appropriate to remand for a new sentencing hearing."

Minniti is serving his sentence at the Lawrence Correctional Center in downstate Sumner. A date for his resentencing has not been scheduled.

Suits for Success board member Tim Ford talks about the nearly 500 clothing items his organization has donated to the DuPage County Sheriff's Office's clothing closet for female jail inmates.
  Suits for Success board member Tim Ford talks about the nearly 500 clothing items his organization has donated to the DuPage County Sheriff's Office's clothing closet for female jail inmates. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer
Suits for Success update

Female detainees at the DuPage County jail now have access to appropriate clothing for job interviews and court appearances.

Suits for Success donated the outfits Tuesday. Outfits also will be given to detainees who need seasonally appropriate clothing upon release, or if their clothes were discarded when they were admitted to the jail.

The Naperville-based charity started a clothing closet for men at the jail in August.

Condolences

Our thoughts this week are with the Northbrook Police Department, which is mourning the death Monday of former Police Chief Charles "Chuck" Wernick.

Wernick served as the town's police chief from 2005 until 2017. His 45-year law enforcement career also included stops in Evanston and Highwood.

"Chief Wernick was truly a cop's cop. But it didn't stop there. He cared about everyone he came in contact with," Village President Sandra Frum said.

Need a ride?

Batavia is preparing to sell a 2014 Ford Interceptor SUV: 111,912 miles on it, more than 1,000 hours of engine running time. Needs $1,500 worth of transmission repair work.

Still, Deputy Chief Shawn Mazza told aldermen Tuesday, the department expects to get as much as $7,000 for the vehicle, based on an earlier sale of two other Interceptors. It's a big change from when the department was using Crown Victoria sedans. "We were lucky to get $1,000 to $1,500 per vehicle," Mazza said.

• Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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