Chicago Area Courts Are Failing Battered Women
Monday, October 27, 2008 2:57 PM

A recent investigative report by the Chicago Tribune found that courts in Chicago, located in the U.S. State of Illinois, are doing little to give relief to battered women. The city of Chicago, located in Cook County, is a large metropolitan area. In 2005, Cook County spent USD $62 million to open a new courthouse that, in part, was aimed at helping victims of violence better able to work through the legal system. However, statistics show that fewer convictions are resulting. The Chicago Tribune found that only one-sixth of the 19,000 domestic violence cases brought yearly in Cook County end in conviction. Most perpetrators never receive jail time, pay fines, or go through alcohol or drug treatment programs.

The County’s Domestic Violence Court was designed to keep alleged perpetrators physically separate from the victims. The Court has separate entrances, security screenings, elevators, and waiting rooms for victims and abusers. Moreover, the building houses a pro bono clinic, a victim services office with multiple organizations, and a daycare.

The problem with the system often lies in lack of resources and staffing. This directly impacts victims seeking redress in the courts. “Frustrated by the bureaucracy and long delays between arrest and the start of trial, many women choose to drop cases, victims and advocates say.”  (From: Ford, Liam, Courts are failing battered women, in the Chicago Tribune, 10 October 2008.) Even with the new courthouse, fewer cases are being heard. In the city of Chicago, for example, the percentage of convictions dropped from 20 percent in 2003 to less than 14 percent in 2007. Judges and prosecutors work on dozens of cases daily and often do not have much time before a hearing to meet with victims and give proper individual attention to each case.

In an attempt to solve these problems and respond to the Court’s inadequacies, a panel was created in August 2008 called the Committee on Domestic Violence. Panel members include judges, law professors, lawyers, domestic violence advocates, and representatives from various non-profit organizations in the Chicago area.

The Domestic Violence Court, which has become a model across the United States, hears criminal misdemeanor domestic violence cases, some felony cases, civil and criminal orders for protection, among other types of cases.

Compiled from: Ford, Liam, Courts are failing battered women, in the Chicago Tribune, 10 October 2008; Chief Judge Evans announces Circuit Court of Cook County Committee on Domestic Violence Court, Press Release, Cook County Court, 21 August 2008.