Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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“Every month is Domestic Violence Awareness Month:” How Jackson County is helping to prevent an epidemic

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October is recognized nationwide as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s an issue of great concern in Carbondale and the surrounding community.

“The amount of orders of protection filed in Jackson County has been very high, especially this year,” said domestic violence medical/legal advocate Elizabeth Sears, who works for the Survivor Empowerment Center. “Our shelter has also been almost fully occupied for most of the year.”

Even with domestic violence on the rise, a large number of cases still go unreported each year. According to the book “Making Sense of a Global Pandemic” by Balbir Gurm and Jennifer Marchbank, approximately 70% of domestic violence cases are never reported to police.

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Jackson County State’s Attorney Joe Cervantez believes abuse is underreported for several factors, namely fear of consequences and shame.

“I think people understand the severity of domestic battery,” Cervantez said. “I think of all the different types of offenses, the deterrence level of domestic battery is probably the highest… The general public knows that if they call the police, someone’s going to jail… I think that’s one of the types of cases that there is a true deterrence for because of the harsh penalties for domestic battery.”

Cervantez noted that another major factor is embarrassment.

“I think that’s a big issue in neighborhoods and on college campuses,” he said. “There’s a lot of stigma attached to having a domestic violence issue or being involved in a toxic relationship.”

On average, a victim leaves and returns to their abusive relationship seven times.

“There’s a lot of emotions involved in it,” Cervantez said. “Because it’s not necessarily just a crime… When you call the cops on domestic battery, it’s not just a conclusion of a bad day or a bad night, it could be the conclusion of a long-term relationship, marriage, engagement or anything else like that.”

Sears said in order to support a loved one in an abusive relationship, we must first educate ourselves on why it may be hard for them to leave.

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“There is so much that goes into making the decision to leave,” she said. “There’s such a [manipulative] aspect of this, it’s very confusing, it’s heartbreaking…You don’t wanna let go of that idea of what you thought your future would be… You’re asking someone to completely throw away their entire life. And even if that life isn’t great right now, forcing them into [leaving] is not what they need in that moment.”

Sears believes that the key to supporting victims is to be there, believe them and love them through it.

“Having those lifelines are what make it possible for the victim to leave,” she said.

When cases of domestic violence rise to the level of criminal conduct, the incident reports are sent to the State’s Attorney’s Office for review. Reports are first submitted to victim advocates at various agencies in the county, including the Carbondale Police Department, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, and the Survivor Empowerment Center.

The victim advocate for the Jackson County State’s Attorney’s Office is Jessica Drake. According to Drake, if a victim wants their abuser to be prosecuted, one of their legal options is an emergency order of protection.

“That usually happens right after the incident,” Drake said. “Then, the [victim and abuser] will appear at a plenary hearing in which the judge would decide whether to grant the order of protection for two more years. Here, once we get the report, we review it and normally contact the victim to come in to meet with the attorney assigned to the case. At that time, the attorney will go over everything with the victim and proceed with filing criminal charges when warranted.”

Cervantez said that throughout the year, the office works closely with community groups and victims to ensure that they are well-educated on the court process and policies.

“I feel like every month is Domestic Violence Awareness Month for us,” he said. “We’re always trying to communicate that there’s a domestic violence issue in the community, always trying to reach out to victims, always supporting the Survivor Empowerment Center.”

Cervantez’s office has supported the center by attending and contributing to its fundraisers, creating a place in the office for victim advocates and referring victims to the center.

“To us, every day, every week, every month is business as usual. We’re trying to raise awareness and trying to come up with [new] programs and trying to support the programs that the community has,” he said.

While the office works to stay in contact with the victim from start to finish of their case, there is no follow-up with the victim after they leave the system. Cervantez believes that checking in with victims could prevent incidents from recurring and improve the victim’s outcome.

“Somebody can come in, get an order of protection, then leave and we’ll never hear from them again,” he said. “So I think that if we could do anything better, let’s reassess the services not just when we’re working with them at the moment, but also services post-trauma… If there’s anything that can help, I think that’s one of them.”

Cervantez is an alumni of the SIU School of Law. He became interested in domestic violence issues after participating in a program at the SIU Domestic Violence Clinic.

“It was, to me at the time, an opportunity just to get credit hours. I didn’t think anything of it,” he said. “Gail Thomas used to run the program, and she was contracted with the courthouse to represent people that needed assistance with orders of protection…Because the law school was contracted, she could have her students come into court and argue.”

The first case Cervantez got to argue for was in front of Judge Kimberly L. Dahlen, who was one of the first female judges in Illinois.

“After the first time that I argued against one of the local attorneys here, I was able to get an order of protection for someone, and I realized this is kind of a good thing to do,” Cervantez said. “And then Judge Dahlen said ‘You should keep doing this, you should be in court’…And so I did another case.”

There are opportunities for all students, no matter their major, to get involved with domestic violence awareness in southern Illinois. Events at the Survivor Empowerment Center are always open to volunteers.

“You can just call our center and we’ll get you directed to someone who can get you signed up,” Sears said. “We have a ton of volunteer opportunities.”

Individuals wanting to work directly with clients will be required to complete a 40-hour training prior to volunteering. The center has several other volunteer opportunities that do not require this training, such as organizing the donation room. For more information, reach out to the general office at 618-549-4807 or the center’s hotline at 1-800-334-2094. The general office is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The objective of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, according to Sears, is to bring attention to the issue, educate the community and honor those who have lost their lives.

“It’s a great opportunity to educate and start a conversation that can be uncomfortable but is so important,” she said. “I think the hope is to see change; to ultimately end the cycle of violence…Another part of the month that is very important is to recognize and mourn those who have died at the hands of domestic violence.”

The center’s crisis hotline can be reached at 1(800) 334-2094. It runs 24/7, 365 days a year. Sheltering, counseling, legal advocacy and services for children are also available.

“All of our services are completely 100% free and confidential to all,” Sears said. “The individual can call our crisis hotline [at any time] and they’ll be directed based on their need.”

To raise awareness this month, the Survivor Empowerment Center has several events and activities planned. Sears said the center needs all of the help it can get for Take Back the Night, an awareness march scheduled on Oct. 26. Those participating will meet at The Gaia House at 6 p.m. The march will begin at 6:30.

“The whole point of the event is to break the silence and let survivors of both sexual assault and domestic violence take back their voice and feel empowered,” Sears said.

Several clotheslines events will also be taking place. These are opportunities to uplift survivors’ voices and allow them to share their story through art. Shirts are made by survivors, highlighting their experiences, and put on public display.

“It’s really powerful,” Sears said. “Some of the shirts are very graphic, some of them are kind of vague, but it was their [the survivor’s] choice…to get their story out however they wanted to portray it.”

The remaining clothesline events will take place at John A. Logan College on Oct. 19, and at Southern Illinois University on Oct. 23. Additionally, the center will be participating in two trunk-or-treat events: Night of the Living in Anna, Illinois, on Oct. 25 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., and one at the Dentmon Center on Oct. 27 from 6-9 p.m.

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