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Hundreds of Ecuadorian and Venezuelan asylum seekers arrived in Chicago in June and October 2022. Currently, they are housed in 10 hotels across the City and suburbs. With the trauma and violence they experienced on their journey and relational violence some families are experiencing connected to their enduringly uncertain status, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) requested our support in training hotel staff on the signs of gender-based violence and how to respond—with a rapid timeline. Our training team deftly stepped into the role.  

Fluent in Spanish and adept at developing culturally informed trainings, our Training Coordinator Emagin Tanaschuk adapted our training materials to the refugees’ context and went out to Skokie to lead the first of several discussions with the refugees. 

She validated survivorship and seeking resources, talked with the refugees about signs that someone might be experiencing violence, and ways to reach out for support while still understanding and maintaining your own boundaries. She encouraged neighbors to reach out and build rapport with one another. And if violence is very clearly occurring, she offered some supportive language a neighbor could say to a survivor. 

Utilizing a trial after hours program that launched in September 2022, many survivors have been able to access vital domestic violence orders of protection. Among these were a woman whose work schedule overlapped with the Court’s scheduled physical hours of operation, a caller who was caring for her sick mother and could not access alternate care to come to the court, and a client who learned about the option while she was at an emergency shelter.

Because of your support and advocacy, we’ve progressed on “ensuring that survivors have access to services when it is safest to seek help,” says Executive Director Amanda Pyron.

At times, the advocacy that works is surprising…

She experienced weapon-involved domestic violence after her perpetrator moved out—into another unit in the same building. And Selena’s ex began surveilling her. She’d open her apartment door—and her ex would be there. She’d return from the gym at 5:30 a.m. and her ex would be stalking her, waiting in the garage. The building had documented a long history of physical abuse.

The Safe Homes Act (SHA) is designed to protect survivors from exactly this type of abuse and enduring harassment. The SHA allows survivors to end leases early or change locks when they are facing a credible threat of domestic or sexual violence or have experienced sexual violence where they live.

And yet the building would do nothing. Because the violence she’d experienced didn’t fit into their expectations for domestic violence and sexual violence.

Sometimes “it’s the empathy that keeps us there. And being scared that we’re not going to be able to make it.” Graciela knows the patterns of domestic violence well. She’s lived them. And she’s worked for over two decades at the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline as a Victim Information Resource Advocate (VIRA, someone who talks with survivors who call the Hotline).

Fundamental to our work as advocates is empowering survivors, helping them strategize and believe themselves capable of taking the actions they need to be safer. As Debra, another VIRA for over two decades, affirms, “Only a victim knows the abuser and how far that abuser would go.”

Survivors are experts in what is takes to survive moment to moment. We listen, offer counsel, and build more options with them.

Debra works at the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline. She and her colleagues Graciela and Claudia have been here for over two decades, nearly since the Hotline opened in 1998. And in that time, they’ve seen the options for survivors change dramatically.

When the Hotline first opened, connecting victims with shelter was the main task for VIRAs (Victim Information Resource Advocates, those who answer calls). Shelters had greater availability than today, though, because far fewer clients sought housing in the early years.

Housing is a huge challenge at present, much amplified during the pandemic and economic crisis, because victims are in close proximity with their perpetrators meaning their needs are often more complex and they face greater violence, with a higher lethality.

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