Institute for Nonviolence Chicago victim and street outreach service teams provide immediate services to victims and families when a shooting is reported | Provided, Institute for Nonviolence Chicago

Over the summer, the Austin area has seen a slight increase in shootings when compared to last year’s historic downtrend. But differing from common assumptions, this trend is not caused by gang-related violence. This summer, the 15th Chicago Police District has identified at least a dozen incidents, including shooting incidents and homicides, rooted in domestic conflicts, what they call domestic-nexus incidents.

“In a district, you always have to know and understand the why [behind crime statistics],” said Andre Parham, 15th district commander.

“A domestic nexus [incident], is very hard to predict,” Parham said, adding that unlike some domestic violence cases, there is not always a precedent of an abusive relationship that could help the police department intervene before violence further escalates.

Domestic nexus incidents are different from domestic violence in the way they’re categorized, but they also require a different response from the police department, he said. The Chicago Police Department classifies incidents following internal and FBI crime reporting criteria.

When it comes to domestic violence, the police department follows the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, which provides special protection under the law for victims of domestic violence. Under that act, domestic violence is defined as abuse, which can take the form of physical abuse, harassment, intimidation and interference with personal liberty.

Who is the victim of such abuse determines what cases are categorized as domestic violence. Under the state act, domestic violence victims can be spouses or former spouses, parents, children or stepchildren, other persons related by blood or marriage, persons who share or formerly shared a common dwelling, persons who have or had a dating or engagement relationship and persons with disabilities and their caregivers.

Such a broad definition covers many scenarios, but there are still instances of incidents that don’t classify as domestic violence but have a domestic nexus. For example, there was a local shooting incident where a woman’s ex-boyfriend, also the father of her child, shot her new boyfriend.

“That kind of categorization is more like community violence, but really the emphasis of that is the underlying domestic violence issue, rooted in manipulation, power and control,” said Carol Gall, executive director of nonprofit Sarah’s Inn which is based in Forest Park.

 This is a common thread between domestic nexus cases and domestic violence cases. And, domestic nexus violence also contributes to overall community violence, including gun violence.

“There is an uptick in domestic violence where guns are used in,” said Tara Dabney, director of development and communications at the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.

Identifying domestic violence or domestic-nexus cases comes with challenges. They may require additional investigation, intelligence or cooperation from victims who refuse to share more information out of fear or stigma.  

Yet, it is important to understand what is happening in order to provide timely services to victims. In the case described earlier, the woman was not hurt in the shooting incident but is still at risk, even if the crime was not classified as domestic violence.

Understanding how domestic violence correlates to community violence is also key for the police department to create effective policing strategies. It is also fundamental for organizations working to prevent gun violence in Chicago’s communities, a “symptom of a greater problem” caused by systemic racism, poverty and disinvestment in communities.

“But domestic violence is also a root, it has a power and control dynamics…” Dabney said. “It’s important to understand the root causes when violence occurs so we can really address and mitigate the trauma that’s underlying that violence.”

Some of these responses include wellness programs offered by the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.

“We’ve really increased our behavioral health and wellness work and using a social emotional learning model and cognitive behavioral interventions to help those who have experienced incredibly high levels of trauma,” Dabney said.

“We believe that is a key form of prevention … with community violence, often what we see is that those who are perpetrating violence have very often experienced violence or extreme trauma throughout their life cycle.”

In the Austin area, numerous community organizations, including faith leaders, grassroot organizations and the police department partner to provide services to victims of domestic violence and domestic-nexus incidents. A police officer is the domestic violence liaison who follows up with victims to ensure they are safe and refer them to service providers.

Each case is different, but overall, victims in both of these categories may need a wide number of services that range from a 24/7 service line to counseling, legal counseling, financial support, housing, childcare, family services and job placement. When needed, the police department also helps victims get legal protections, like court protection orders.

Through an ongoing partnership, the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago and Sarah’s Inn staff work collaboratively to intervene and support victims of domestic or domestic-nexus violence. If victims agree, they can be referred to Sarah’s Inn to create a safety plan, get counseling, access financial support services and if needed, relocate.

“We’ve done a lot of cross-training, so we’ve trained their staff in nonviolence and they trained our staff in domestic violence,” Dabney said. “So we can see if there is an undercurrent of domestic violence that might be the root cause of what’s seen as community violence.”

Other prevention efforts include outreach efforts and events, distributing information, visiting schools and other strategies to help community members identify violence and how to escape it. As community organization leaders know, to address community violence, it is key to understand it can overlap with domestic and domestic-related violence and provide resources to prevent it.

“What we know is that folks are more likely to seek help and stay engaged in services the sooner they are reached,” Dabney said.

If you or a loved one need help, call the National Domestic Violence helpline at 800-7999-723 or text START to 88788. You can also call Sarah’s Inn 24-hour crisis line at 708-386-4224 or text 708-669-6149.