Founding and Early Years
Five women from four different human service organizations started The Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network (now, The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence) in 1980. All organizations focused on women who had experienced domestic violence and their children. The founders sought to organize community resources to provide better options for women impacted by domestic violence. They soon realized the advantages of creating a network that could facilitate communication and advocate on behalf of survivors at the city and state level. The partnership sought to include a wide variety of domestic violence services including shelters, counseling, legal services, and advocacy and policy efforts. After several meetings, The Network formally launched with the four agencies as official members and 41 agencies joining as participating organizations.
Over the next few years, The Network grew and developed. The Network introduced committees to target core themes and policy areas. These have evolved over the decades to focus on training, housing, decarceration, court advocacy, and policy. Importantly, early work for the Network and committee participation was and remains uncompensated.
The Network successfully advocated for House Bill 366, the Illinois Domestic Violence Act. We continued to work in the political realm, supporting the 1984-86 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and liaising with local bodies and agencies that are involved in the criminal-legal system, including the police, the courts, and the States Attorney’s Office.
In 1995, we acquired our first full-time, paid Executive Director and office space. A part-time staff support position and the first intern position were added in the spring of 1996.
In 1997, The Network began to offer training for domestic violence advocates and social service providers throughout Metropolitan Chicago. Soon, the Network added staff members to help with the research, coordination, and attention to logistics required to successfully hold several trainings per year.
The City of Chicago introduced a 24-hour toll-free hotline to connect domestic violence victims with local services in 1998. After a whirlwind of conversations, The Network was chosen to contract with the City and began providing staff and leadership for the new venture. During 2008, the hotline expanded its service area to include survivors throughout the state of Illinois, becoming the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline. Over the course of its history, trained Victim and Information Referral Advocates have answered over 565,000 calls with confidence and care.
The Network continues to work diligently to improve the lives of those impacted by domestic violence and gender-based violence using education, policy & advocacy, and through connecting community members with service providers—each step taking us closer to ending society’s tolerance of gender-based violence.
Over our evolution as an organization, our society has grown in understanding that anyone can be a survivor of domestic and gender-based violence, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, citizenship status, or class. Those with marginalized identities and in marginalized relationships are particularly vulnerable to others exercising power and control over them.
We work to serve all survivors, particularly those impacted by the intersection of state and systemic violence as well as gender-based violence.
Currently, we have a Department of Housing Advocacy, that helps track legislation related to housing survivors, provides training, and advocates for better options for survivors. We offer the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline, where we provide 24/7 support and safety planning for survivors. Our Policy and Advocacy Department conducts research on gender-based violence in Illinois and works with legislators, volunteers, and service providers to advance legislation based on our policy agenda, which we develop in consultation with our member organizations. The Membership and Community Engagement Department serves as a resource for member organizations by providing grants, a job board, and helping form coalitions. Finally, the Centralized Training Institute offers trainings to ensure we, as gender-based violence advocates and community members, are continually learning and supporting survivors in healing.