It has become a tradition every October to see a variety of educational and awareness events concerning domestic violence. Will County Health Department Behavioral Health Division Director Dr. Joseph Troiani says we are now in an era with more education, treatment, and resources than ever before. But at the same time, he emphasizes that the main priority for the future continues to be breaking the cycle of domestic violence by stopping the perpetrator.
“So much progress has been made over the last several decades,” Dr. Troiani explained. “And now we have all these education programs where victims can be taught what to do and where go to. Law enforcement carries information with them so that they know somebody they come across already has a record of domestic violence, or maybe an order of protection against them.”
Dr. Troiani says that in Will County, a major step forward came back in the 90s when State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow created the Domestic Violence Commission. “It brought all the players together, from law enforcement to hospitals to shelters. They were able to collaborate, put their ideas together, and get on the same page.”
Glasgow himself recalled that moment. “In 1993, one of my primary goals in creating the Domestic Violence Commission was to develop a protocol with the invaluable input of all the professional disciplines working in the field. Dr. Troiani was instrumental in supporting this protocol. It acknowledged the unique relationship you often have between the victim and the defendant, and provided a tutorial for police officers on the street for proper investigative techniques.”
“We also assured the victims,” Glasgow continued, “that if they cooperated with police and prosecutors, we could provide them with critical support services and do everything in our power to keep them safe.”
As efforts continue today, Dr. Troiani points out that education will always be a major factor, especially when it comes to men from other cultures where physical abuse or degrading of women seems to be accepted. “Sometimes we will be treating someone in one of our Behavioral Health programs,” Dr. Troiani recalled, “and we explain to them that while in their country or culture a certain behavior may be tolerated, over in our country it is considered very wrong. Sometimes they look very confused at first, simply because they have never been told that the behavior is not acceptable.”
And sure enough, back home in our culture “learned behavior” continues to be a huge factor when domestic violence is in a household. “It’s the environment they grew up in, often with alcohol or drugs involved as well,” Dr. Troiani explained. “They’ve seen it, they’ve experienced it; and they think, ‘this is what you do.’”
One thing that has not changed, Dr. Troiani says, is how domestic violence within a household often increases gradually rather than overnight. “Within a family, you can have what is called a ‘creeping change in normalcy.’ Dad may start treating Mom differently, first with verbal aggression and controlling behavior. Then, gradually, verbal abuse escalates to physical abuse.”
But what triggers this? “Sometimes,” Dr. Troiani explained, “a crisis at home that brings stress triggers the behavior. And again, if the adult grew up in a house where this kind of behavior was normal, and they observed how Dad treated Mom, it often comes to them naturally.”
Dr. Troiani pointed out that it is very important for teachers to watch for changes in their students, as it could be a reaction to what’s happening at home. “One of the best indicators is ‘cutting behavior,’” Dr. Troiani said. “If a youngster is cutting themselves with razors, for example, it might be simply escape all the other pain going on around them.”
But Dr. Troiani also points out that one thing we can definitely say after years of fighting this issue, is that “treatment works.” He says counties having established specialty courts around the country to allow offenders to focus on their specific problem is the way go to.
Mr. Glasgow pointed out that this was another major step when the Domestic Violence Commission was created. “I obtained a federal grant to create a specialized prosecution unit that held offenders accountable under the law, and for the first time mandated domestic violence counseling upon conviction. Finally, I convinced the chief judge to provide a dedicated Domestic Violence Court to properly address these difficult cases, with the sophistication necessary to protect these highly vulnerable victims.”
Dr. Troiani says encouraging the public to report suspected domestic violence incidents is also an area that has grown. “Citizens know more than ever that they can call 9-1-1 and not be revealed as the caller. Protocol among the police requires them to keep that a secret if the caller wishes. The authorities understand better today how to respond to the victim, and be assertive if the suspect says ‘they are not available.’”
“Volunteer organizations,” Dr. Troiani continued, “are also more prevalent now to help a domestic violence victim navigate through the court system, find a shelter or a place to live, and make sure their children are taken care of.”
But how prevalent does this problem remain? The State’s Attorney’s Office reports that within Will County alone, their office charges between 1,100 and 1,200 new cases each year, both misdemeanors and felonies.
Dr. Troiani says that if you are a victim, or suspect a current or ongoing domestic violence situation, never hesitate to call 9-1-1. You can also contact the Will County Health Department Behavioral Health Division at 815-727-8521, or the Will County Crisis Line at 815-722-3344. Services available from the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office can be reached at http://www.willcountysao.com/domestic-resources.html