New tool in fighting domestic abuse: a QR code that points victims to help

DuPage County police and paramedics can now offer victims of domestic violence and abuse a more discreet way to learn about help - a QR code that, when they scan it with their phones, leads to a special website.

The idea came from John Caldwell, a fire medic with the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District. Caldwell said paramedics often are called to treat people they suspect have been injured by an abuser. They try to give the victim a "tear sheet" that lists agencies that can help them.

"The issue we ran into is we did not want to send them back into the home (where the abuser is) with a sheet," Caldwell said.

And sometimes, victims refuse to take the sheet, afraid their abusers will find it, he said. Authorities say the abusers may attack their victims just for possessing that information or seeking help.

Caldwell is part of the steering committee for the DuPage Family Violence Coordinating Council, which developed the QR code with the DuPage County state's attorney's office.

The QR code will take users to a dummy website, where they can then click on a link to get access to a real website with information about agencies that can help them, the court process for prosecuting abusers and how to get orders of protection, find shelter, get legal aid and more.

DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin and Judge Ann Celine O'Hallaren Walsh announced it at a news conference Wednesday.

It took about a year to develop the website and QR code, Walsh said. The current website is in English, but they are planning to make one for Spanish speakers and then other languages, she said.

Police departments are being trained about the QR code in a video featuring Berlin and Walsh. The code also will be distributed to fire departments and six hospitals for medical workers who treat people for abuse injuries or conduct sexual-assault examinations.

Heather Jamison is the domestic violence court advocacy program supervisor for the Family Shelter Service of Metropolitan Family Services of DuPage. She said victims often are overwhelmed when they call the police. Using the QR code puts "valuable information right in the palm of their hand," Jamison said.

Another version of the QR code for the general public will be released this week. Walsh said it could be posted on bulletin boards, public restrooms, and other places where information about resources is available.

  John Caldwell, a fire medic with the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District, discusses his idea to develop a QR code to help victims of domestic abuse find help discreetly. Susan Sarkauskas/
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