The Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network (The Network) began in 1980 by 5 women from four different human service organizations that provided a variety of services for battered women and their children. Their goal was to organize a system that would utilize community resources in order to provide a connection for women impacted by domestic violence. They soon realized the advantages of creating a network that could facilitate communication and serve as an effective agent in bringing pressure to bear on the city and state on behalf of abused women. The partnership was intended to comprise a wide variety of domestic violence service providers including shelters, direct services, legal services, and those who worked at the advocacy and policy levels. After several meetings, The Network structure was formalized to include, two co-chairs, four agencies belonging as official members, and 41 agencies joining as participating organizations.
Over the next few years, The Network continued to grow and develop as a practical organization. A committee-oriented structure was created that targeted specific domestic violence issues and political areas. Over the years, committees have evolved to most effectively engage members and the domestic violence community. It is important to note that this early work done by Network members was, and remains today, non-compensated and volunteer orientated. Committee effort was and is performed in addition to work done as service providers and advocates. The Network also experienced some political success in its support for House Bill 366, the Illinois Domestic Violence Act. The Network continued to work in the political realm, supporting the 1984-86 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and initiating several liaison relationships with various local bodies and agencies such as the police, the courts, and the States Attorney’s Office.
The commitment shown by early leaders and members of The Network laid a strong foundation for the organization to grow. In 1995, the first full-time paid Executive Director was hired and office space was acquired. This was followed by a part-time staff support position and the first intern position in the spring of 1996.
In late 1997, The Network launched the Centralized Training Institute (CTI) to offer essential training for domestic violence advocates and allied professionals throughout Metropolitan Chicago. A combined Board of Directors and member program committee, comprised of domestic violence professionals, originated the idea for CTI and designed the first training delivered in 1997. Soon after, staff members were added to the program to help with the research, coordination, and attention to logistics required to successfully hold many trainings per year. Aside from utilizing the knowledge and expertise of our staff members, CTI contracts with more than forty professional speakers for their knowledge of various areas of domestic violence dynamics, service, and prevention.
In 1998, the City of Chicago began the process of creating a 24-hour, toll-free hotline available for domestic violence victims to call in order to be connected to services. After a whirlwind of discussion, The Network emerged as the best choice to contract with the City and began providing staff and leadership for the new venture. During early 2008, the Help Line expanded its service area and now provides resources to survivors all over the state of Illinois, including the numerous counties that do not have a domestic violence office. Over the course of its history, the Help Line has taken over 300,000 calls with confidence and care.
As Public Policy & Advocacy efforts continued to grow, project opportunities have expanded, as well. In 2008, The Network was approached by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) with an opportunity to create and implement a Domestic Violence Court Watch program. That offer was gladly accepted as member programs and committee participants had frequently cited troublesome experiences within the City of Chicago Centralized Domestic Violence Court. With the help of an AmeriCorp VISTA Volunteer, the Court Watch Project was thoughtfully researched, created, and officially began in November 2008. The first public yearly report was released after a complete year of observations by Court Watch Community Volunteers during Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October) 2010.
The Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network continues to work diligently to improve the lives of those impacted by domestic violence with the use of education, policy & advocacy, and connection of community members to domestic violence service providers – Each step taking us closer to ending society’s tolerance of domestic violence.