Content warning: This article includes sensitive topics involving incidents of intimidation, aggression and physical abuse. 

Throughout 2023, Catherine Barnes called the Chicago Police Department (CPD) more than 20 times to report incidents of intimidation, aggression and physical abuse carried out by her daughter’s father. 

The police responses varied. Barnes’ calls were sometimes ignored, and the police didn’t come. There were also times when officers came to her North Side apartment, which she once shared with her daughter’s father. 

“When the abuse first started happening in 2018, I called the cops for him to be taken out of my home,” Barnes recalled. “One police [officer] told me that they couldn’t remove him. They couldn’t do anything because he had established residency.” 

Overall, each interaction with police officers seemed like, “you’re bothering them,” she explained, “like they’re not getting paid for this.”

Barnes later received an order of protection from the court, but the harassment from her ex didn’t stop until police arrested him on Dec. 5, 2023 for violating the order of protection. He’s currently detained at Cook County Jail, awaiting trial. “I’m praying they give him a year,” she said.

With City Council’s approval of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s 2024 budget in November 2023, the CPD received a nearly $90 million increase for salary increases, to hire more detectives and add 400 new civilian positions, including 44 crime victim advocates and domestic violence advocates as part of an expansion of its Crime Victim Service Unit.

However, gender-based violence advocates pleaded with Johnson’s administration and Chicago City Council members to amend the budget and redistribute those dollars to community-based organizations that are already working with survivors and victims and connecting them to resources and services. 

During budget talks in September, Darci Flynn, the city’s former director of gender-based violence strategy and policy, was not included in the decision-making process surrounding the 2024 budget — neither was the Gender-based Violence (GBV) Task Force, which works to implement initiatives to address the root causes of gender-based violence citywide. The GBV Task Force was established in 2021 under Mayor Lori Lightfoot.  There are 17 organizations appointed to the task force, which also collaborates with a survivor-leader group. 

“I was not included in any of those discussions under this [Johnson] administration. Whereas in the last [Mayor Lori Lightfoot] administration, my role was to be the adviser on these issues,” Flynn explained. 

“The mayor didn’t always do what I advised,” Flynn said, referring to Lightfoot, “but at least I was brought to the table to be part of the discussion.”

However, Garien Gatewood, Deputy Mayor of Community Safety, said the Johnson administration became aware of the addition of domestic violence advocates when the police department presented its budget to the mayor’s office in September ahead of the October budget address. 

He confirmed that the GBV Task Force wasn’t included in making that decision but that conversations and engagement with the GBV Task Force are ongoing. The decision to include more roles within CPD drew concern from the gender-based violence community and other stakeholders, who called on the administration and city council members to reallocate dollars to community-run organizations.

“I wanted to be impactful, and I wanted to be utilized with the expertise that I have, and that just wasn’t happening,” Flynn explained.

Flynn says she submitted her resignation in September 2023 for two reasons: to step back from the grind of city government work and because she felt underutilized in the Johnson administration. 

Flynn was terminated days after submitting her resignation, she told The TRiiBE in an interview on Jan. 9. She is still unclear about why she was terminated. The TRiiBE reached out to the Johnson administration for a response regarding the termination. S. Mayumi “Umi” Grigsby, Johnson’s Chief of Policy, said the administration does not comment on “specific personnel issues.” The 2024 budget later passed in November 2023.

In mid-December, the Johnson administration named Noureen Hashim-Jiwani as Flynn’s successor. The announcement was made through internal emails and picked up by Politico’s Playbook. Hashim-Jiwani was previously a senior adviser for health and human services. While on the mayor’s policy team, she led the Treatment Not Trauma working group. In her previous roles within Cook County government, she expanded access to gender-based violence services, built and implemented programming at the Cook County Women’s Jail, and advocated for legislation to expand the rights of post-partum women.

But without including and empowering communities who work with or are directly impacted by gender-based violence in key policy decisions, it will be challenging for these new CPD positions to be successful, according to Flynn and others in the gender-based violence community. 

“We need to include community partners in that conversation, and they weren’t involved in any budget discussions, at least while I was there, and I left at the end of September [2023],” Flynn said. 

Stakeholders within the gender-based violence community raised concerns around the new CPD positions. They feared these new roles would put their clients at greater risk because domestic violence liaisons who work outside of law enforcement agencies are forbidden by law to share communication between their clients and the police. 

“These positions are only successful if they have a good working relationship with the community-based organizations on the ground that are meeting the needs of survivors, and currently, those organizations don’t have a good relationship with CPD,” she added.

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Shayla Walker volunteers at the Connections for Abused Women and Their Children and is a survivor of domestic violence. Walker is also a member of a domestic violence survivor group at Mount Sinai. She spoke to The TRiiBE about her personal interactions with police and the legal system. She hasn’t had a favorable experience either. 

“I had to pretty much fight my way out of that relationship,” she said, referring to leaving her ex, who’d physically abused her for four years. 

“The police made it seem like I was the aggressor, but at the end of the day, this man not only hit me, he punched a 15-year-old kid. The police made a decision without knowing the whole situation, instead of hearing both sides.”

She sees the increase in domestic violence advocates as a positive so long as it comes with support and resources for all domestic violence survivors, especially Black women.

“I actually think it will be something very useful,” she said. “If it’s actually gonna help, I’m with it.”

Flynn submitted the GBV Task Force’s budget proposal to Grigsby and Jen Johnson, Deputy Mayor of Education, in mid-September before she was terminated. The budget proposal didn’t include expanding those roles within CPD.

Instead, the task force identified the following priorities in its budget proposal: launching a peer-to-peer model to destigmatize the issue of gender-based violence and comprehensive sexual health education and gender-based violence prevention education for youth and caregivers in the community. 

The GBV community cites harmful dynamics between CPD and community members as reasoning for their approach, such as the issue of confidentiality. People who work in agencies outside of law enforcement and who work with victims and survivors of gender-based violence are bound by confidentiality. 

Flynn also pointed to the lack of efficiency around how CPD tracks its engagement with domestic violence victims, as well as its capacity constraints. Currently, she said, the department’s Crime Victim Service Unit, which includes domestic violence services, is overseen by one person, Aileen Robinson. Robinson is the program assistant director of Crime Victim Services. 

“​If we were to ask CPD, how many touch points did a domestic violence liaison have with survivors or how many referrals were made,” Flynn said, “they can’t tell you that because they don’t have the data technology to collect and analyze that, and that’s not great for accountability and transparency.”

Both Walker and Barnes listed empathy as one of the top characteristics needed for those who will be employed as domestic violence advocates and crime victim advocates in CPD. 

“Just care about your job, and they need to start taking it [domestic violence] more seriously,” Barnes said. 

Although shootings and the number of homicides decreased by 13 percent in 2023, the number of domestic violence-related shootings and homicides is increasing. There were 62 domestic violence-related shootings in 2022, a 38 percent increase from 2021, and more than half of the incidents involved firearms, according to The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence’s 2022 annual report

There’s also a need for wraparound services like housing, cash assistance, legal services, employment, and more so that domestic violence survivors can get on their feet, Walker added. Since leaving her ex more than a year ago, Walker has been seeking permanent housing for herself and her teenage son.

“It’s so hard to get housing. It’s just like so many hoops that you have to jump through because no one really wants to help you,” she said. “If you’re fleeing a bad situation, you should be able to get an apartment,” Walker said. 

In 2023, Barnes and Walker received a $1,000 one-time payment through the city’s Emergency Financial Assistance program for Gender-based Violence and Human Trafficking Survivors, which is a $5 million fund to provide cash assistance to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking. It covers childcare, transportation, medical expenses, education and more. 

The Emergency Financial Assistance program will see an increase from $1.2 million to $2.2 million in the 2024 budget, said Grigsby. She noted that Hashim-Jiwani’s efforts led to increased funding for the assistance program. 

The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, an advocacy group, administered the assistance program. The Network represents 40-plus member organizations dedicated to improving the lives of those impacted by gender-based violence through education, public policy and advocacy, and connecting community members with direct service providers.

“It’s a blessing because you’re not expecting it. I got to buy groceries, pay off my gas, lights and Wi-Fi bills,” Barnes said. She also used some funds to buy clothing and toys for her children. 

More than 1,000 applications were accepted in the first phase of the Emergency Financial Assistance program. In May 2023, the first payments were made to 733 survivors. Of the survivors funded in the first phase, 35 percent identified as Latine or Hispanic, and 47 percent identified as Black or African-American, according to a written release.  

Walker echoed Barnes’ sentiments about receiving a grant from the Emergency Financial Assistance program, but she suggested the payments be spread out over a period of time to help survivors who are often still experiencing depression, PTSD, and more.  

“The $1,000 dollars from the Survivor Fund is something; however, it is not enough,” Walker said. “When you go through trying to get out of the situation, you’re thinking about it every day. You have panic attacks, crying, you can’t get up out of bed.”

“You’re also dealing with trying to get another job, and sometimes things just don’t go right. It’s all really traumatizing,” she added. 

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.