• Megann Horstead

Responding to crimes against women, children focus of Downers Grove public forum


Many women and children who face the threat of domestic violence are overcome by fear, as they look to carry out their lives and rid themselves of unhealthy relationships.

The process, alone, is traumatizing for individuals to undergo.

This became the topic of discussion Feb. 24 for the League of Women Voters of Downers Grove, Woodridge and Lisle, who turned to the community to host a presentation/public forum called, “Crimes Against Women & Children: A Community Response.”

The event, held at the Lincoln Center, brought in a number of people, including representatives from DuPage County and the Village of Downers Grove.

Featured speakers were Nyla Whitehead, prevention educator for Family Shelter Service; Colleen Zavodny, coordinator of advocacy and crisis intervention for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago; and Congressman Bill Foster (D-11).

Whitehead referenced a number of common tactics, such as not allowing access to familial finances and using denial, in which people go to when engaging in an abusive relationship.

“It’s not just teens that do this, and it’s not just guys that do a lot of these tactics to girls,” Whitehead said. “I want to be very fair and acknowledge that.”

Another tactic of note involves getting an individual to try to drop the charges one is looking to press against their abuser.

“Now, in Illinois, the state picks that up, so that those charges cannot be dropped,” Whitehead said.

Common myths about domestic violence are that the abuser needs anger management, the couple needs couples/marriage counseling, someone provoked it, and it happens only in certain neighborhoods.

Whitehead negated the perceived truths in such scenarios and said the first and most important thing to do in such a situation is to hear out the individual whose been abused.

Other ways to assist an individual whose been abused is to educate, let them leave, and plan for safety.

Whitehead said it’s important to be careful when looking to get an individual to escape an abusive relationship.

“Actually, a partner’s chances of dying go up 75 percent, once they say that ‘I’m going to leave,’” she said. “Don’t use it as a threat. It’s not going to work.”

Zavodny said the difference between what she and Whitehead are doing is that she is more involved in first response in the community, rather than prevention education.

“I’m networking with our hospitals, making sure that they’re calling us, making sure that they’re in compliance with Sexual Assault Survivor Emergency Treatment Act,” She said. “I’m working with our law enforcement, making sure that they are trained on what we affectionately in the sexual assault world know is [the Sexual Assault Incident Procedure Act], a great piece of legislation the State of Illinois has that changes the way that victims and law enforcement interact and changes the amount of time that evidence collection kits are held.”

The YWCA helps people in a variety of ways, including childcare referrals, a women’s health exchange, business and entrepreneurship services, and safety net programs.

“I cannot tell you how many times we have had disclosures from young boys,” Zavodny said. “I cannot tell you how many times I have responded to a call for a rape that occurred for a DuPage County inmate, and it was a male victim. We do not only serve women, and our services do not only serve women. We serve everyone.”

Under the umbrella of sexual violence is sexual harassment, assault/rape, intimate violence, and child sexual abuse.

“It is all based on power and control,” Zavodny said.

Sexual harassment has made headlines locally and nationally in recent months, with the spread of the #MeToo movement.

Zavodny said it’s important to know where to draw the line, how to talk about consent in healthy relationships, and when people can give consent legally.

“I do have to say that in the State of Illinois, we do have some fairly progressive laws for sexual assault survivors, and we’ve increased the amount of laws that we’ve had to ensure that victims have their right to safety and have the right to a successful prosecution, if it goes that way,” Zavodny said.

Zavodny wanted it to be clear that we do not talk to children enough about consent and we do not educate children enough about consent.

Zavodny has been working in DuPage County for nearly a decade. She took time to go over some data pertinent to the area.

Zavodny said the YWCA is out in the community a lot.

Last year, YWCA served 164 people bedside at a hospital for a total of almost 500 hours. In the criminal justice system, they served 111 clients last year for a total of 252 hours. YWCA had 135 clients who received crisis intervention from the center, and they had 88 clients in counseling for a total of more than 1,500 hours.

“Our community response is good, but it always needs to be better,” Zavodny said. “The fact that Advocate Good Samaritan just trained three nurses for the sexual assault nurse examiners certification is an outstanding bonus for our community. The fact that we do not have sexual assault nurse examiners at every single one of our hospitals in DuPage County is a deficit to survival in the community.”

Zavodny gave kudos to the people who drove State of Illinois’ legislation on sexual assault to this point.

Foster said it is not okay to normalize such behaviors and people have to recognize that.

“This is not going to be cured in one generation,” he said. “It’s one of those things where the only reason that society gets better is that every generation behaves a little better.”

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How you can help

Family Shelter Service is looking for people to make donations to support shelter residents.

  • Ethnic hair products

  • Shampoo

  • Hair conditioner

  • Liquid body wash

  • Hair brushes

  • Dry Shampoo

  • Baby wipes

  • Baby wash

  • Face wipes

  • Face wash

  • Beauty products

  • Pajamas

  • Women’s sweat suits sizes XS-3XL

  • Exersaucers

  • Strollers single and double

  • Gallon-sized baggies

  • Cleaning supplies

Donations can be dropped off at Family Shelter Service’s Westmont location, 1131 Fairview Ave.

For more information about how to make a donation, visit www.familyshelterservice.org.

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