December 23, 2014

Domestic violence task force on ‘hiatus’

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Lisa Little,  a court advocate with Courage Connection at Lincoln Square on Friday, December 12, 2014.

Darrell Hoemann/C-U Citizen Access

Lisa Little, a court advocate with Courage Connection at Lincoln Square on Friday, December 12, 2014.

Johnathan Hettinger/For CU-CitizenAccess.org –Despite hundreds of domestic violence arrests each year in Champaign and Urbana, a task force formed to address the issue has stopped meeting.

The Central Illinois Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Task Force is “on hiatus but not gone,” said task force co-chair Lisa Little, who is also a court advocate at Courage Connection.

When the task force originally met in May 2013, it received much media attention. But after two meetings, Nancy Hiatt left her job as the executive director of domestic violence service agency, the Center for Women in Transition. The Center is now known as Courage Connection.

With Hiatt’s departure, the task force was placed “on the back burner,” Little said.

The original task force had 30-to-40 members including judges, police officers, doctors and community organizations from Champaign, Douglas, Ford and Piatt counties, Little said.

Domestic violence continues to be a problem in the community 19 months after the community was formed.

For example, in 2013, Champaign police made 322 domestic violence-related arrests and 204 arrests through Oct. 29 of this year. Urbana made 214 arrests in 2013 and 186 through Oct. 29 of this year.

Little thinks when the task force is revived, it will start a little smaller – with at least one judge, a representative from the State’s Attorney’s Office and members of each of the four local police jurisdictions: Champaign, Urbana, University of Illinois and Champaign County Sherriff’s Office.

“It was not really running,” Little said. “It’s not that we didn’t think it was positive. It was the change in management.”

Courage Connection named a new executive director, Isak Griffiths, in June 2014, and Little said Griffiths needed time to adjust.

But now that Griffiths has gotten more comfortable in her role, Little said she expects the task force to start up again soon, beginning with discussion in January and possibly meeting by March or April of 2015.

Griffiths said she had never heard of the task force when she was contacted by C-U Citizen Access on Tuesday, but she said she supports it and thinks it would be great to see up and running again.

Griffiths said that an organization to help coordinate agencies would be very helpful to make sure they’re not doing double work but also to help victims find which services are best for them.

Griffiths gave the example of orders of protection. Currently, there are two different agencies who help clients get orders of protection, one for sexual assault and one for domestic violence. For a victim, it can be confusing which organization to go to.

“We need to make sure people are going to the best resources for them,” Griffiths said.

“It’s a better place to start,” Little said. “It’ll hopefully be more permanent.”

Little said she thought the original task force had forward momentum and started to make strides, including helping to educate the Urbana police and Sheriff’s office about orders of protection.

University police spokesman Patrick Wade said the UIPD had “minimal interaction” with the task force but is supportive of its efforts. Champaign police spokeswoman Rene Dunn said, to her knowledge the department hadn’t been involved with the task force.

In the future, Little said she thinks the task force will focus on public education about domestic violence and sexual assault, helping the people of the community realize what these actions are and the resources offered throughout the Champaign-Urbana area.