Sterk Resources Spotlight: Suburban Family Shelter
Domestic Violence & Family Services
Court Advocacy Helps Victims of Domestic Violence
When victims of domestic violence try to change their situations, they face a diverse set of challenges that start with protecting their physical and mental health, and extend into managing many other life logistics.
For this reason, South Suburban Family Shelter offers a number of services to its clients, delivering to those experiencing domestic violence whatever they need most. This includes emergency shelter, counseling, medical advocacy and much more.
One critical service provided by the Homewood-based nonprofit agency gives victims of domestic violence access to certified court advocates to help them understand their options and navigate the often daunting legal system.
Speaking from her busy office at Markham Courthouse, certified court advocate and SSFS employee Chanté Adams said her contact with clients begins when their domestic partner is arrested for perpetrating violence against them, or they seek help in a civil protection case.
“We reach out to the victim to communicate their rights, what options they have,” Adams said. “We discuss whether they’re seeking a protective order. If they are seeking assistance or proceeding with charges, we teach them about the legal process from beginning to end.”
Many victims of domestic violence are reluctant to pursue charges, and court advocates respect their decisions, Adams said. Some people return to the advocacy office multiple times before they follow through with pursuing charges to conclusion. It can be an arduous process, but Adams stressed that a prison sentence isn’t the only potential outcome.
“If (victims) don’t want to proceed with charges, they still have options such as a civil protective order,” Adams said.
“When we’re working with clients in a criminal matter, they’re often afraid the perpetrator will receive jail time. We want them to know that there’s help before jail has to be the option. We don’t necessarily want the perpetrator to be incarcerated, either.”
In a deferred prosecution agreement with the court, perpetrators of domestic violence can sometimes avoid serving jail time by completing a series of educational courses. SSFS is one agency that facilitates these courses meant to help people understand the impact of domestic violence, as well as begin to uncover the motivation behind their violent tendencies and methods to change their behavior.
Adams offered a reminder that the discussion of domestic violence covers a broad range of complex relationships, including intimate partners, parents-children, roommates, and family members living together are all vulnerable to physically violent and mentally intimidating behaviors.
If victims pursue charges — or the state’s attorney does so independently — court advocates stay connected with them throughout their cases. Advocates are not attorneys, but they can advise victims of their rights and press for fairness in the case.
Adams said the SSFS program is unique in that she and her colleagues act as criminal and civil advocates. They communicate with state’s attorneys and victims’ attorneys, and can speak up in the courtroom if the judge allows it, Adams said. It’s all in the name of victims’ rights.
“We never speak on behalf of the client, because that’s not our role,” she said. “We do make sure that all parties involved understand what’s necessary for this individual to be heard.”
SSFS court advocates also assist during civil cases involving domestic violence, in which a victim does not want to seek criminal charges, but wants the court’s assistance in staying safe from abuse, Adams said.
Snapshot of how SSFS court advocates assist victimsSSFS certified court advocates work at multiple local area courthouses, but Adams said most domestic violence cases are heard at Markham Courthouse. From the start of 2021 to mid-June at Markham Courthouse, SSFS served 811 individuals in the following ways:
- Serviced 379 clients for 950 hours, including civil and criminal orders of protection
- Consulted with an additional 247 individuals who didn’t complete an intake form
- Provided referrals and information to 185 people
To learn more about South Suburban Family Shelter, visit its website at www.ssfs1.org, call (708) 794-2140 or email email@example.com. For after-hours emergencies, call the hotline at (708) 335-3028.
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