Chicago is expected to end 2023 with a double-digit decline in both shootings and homicides, a sign that the pandemic-era rise in gun violence is beginning to recede. But citywide data shows that a small subset of Chicago shootings — those involving domestic violence — have accelerated this year, a spike that is raising new alarm among victims' advocates.
As 2023 draws to a close, shootings that Chicago authorities deemed domestic in nature have increased 19 percent compared to this time last year, according to city data. While the number of fatal domestic shootings has not changed since 2022, non-fatal shootings have increased 27 percent.
Those shootings (127, as of this week) include a wide range of situations that are classified as domestic and often occur at home. They include violence against women at the hands of their partners; a woman who shoots her abusive partner in her own defense; and a man who shoots a cousin during an argument.
Only a small portion of the more than 2,800 people shot in Chicago in 2023 were victims of domestic violence, but domestic shootings were a cause for concern because of their growing number.
Domestic violence experts said the reasons behind the increase are murky and could reflect a number of factors: Gun ownership has increased since the start of the pandemic, particularly in 2020, when applications for gun licenses in Illinois increased 56 percent from the previous year. .
“From our perspective, easy access to firearms increased during the pandemic, and it is likely access to firearms that drove this type of violence during the pandemic,” said Amanda Pyron, executive director of Network, a advocacy organization in Chicago. “That continues.”
Lawyers representing victims of domestic violence also pointed to a noticeable, though difficult to quantify, shift in the tension, stress and violence that has taken hold in the United States since the pandemic.
“It seems as if there has been a societal shift in the level of anger, violence and threats,” said Margaret Duval, executive director of Ascend Justice, a nonprofit that provides legal advocacy for victims of domestic violence. “We think about road rage, flight rage and all that stuff. It may also be showing up in homes.”
The rising cost of housing also could be preventing some domestic violence victims from leaving a dangerous situation, advocates who work with victims said.
“Housing is probably the number one need for our clients,” said Jennifer Greene, director of policy and advocacy for Life Span, an organization that provides legal services and counseling to victims of domestic violence. “Affordable housing does not exist. “If I'm trying to get away from an abusive relationship and I don't have a safe place to go, that's a big motivation to stay.”
Advocates are also concerned that many victims of domestic violence, usually women, do not contact police for help when they are threatened.
Darci Flynn, a consultant who until September was director of gender-based violence strategy and policy for the city of Chicago, said she has seen the phenomenon unfold this year.
When Flynn worked in city government, he said, he met regularly with a high-ranking police officer to discuss every domestic violence-related shooting in the city, whether it resulted in injury or death.
In many of those cases, he said, there was no record that the victim had previously called 911 for help or filed for a protective order in court.
“People aren't reaching out,” he said.
This year in Chicago, at least one high-profile domestic homicide case pointed to a lack of communication between law enforcement and the justice system. In July, Karina González, a 48-year-old Chicago resident, was shot to death along with her 15-year-old daughter by her husband, José Álvarez, prosecutors said, even after obtaining a protective order against him weeks later. before.
Alvarez's firearms identification card (a license required to own a gun in Illinois) had been revoked, but sheriff's deputies did not confiscate his gun or serve him with a protective order granted by a judge. Mr. Álvarez has pleaded not guilty.
“All homicides are tragic, but they are very predictable,” Duval said. “How many situations are there in which the victim knows that she is at risk, she does everything possible to avoid it, she can identify the source of the risk and yet we cannot stop it?”
A bill named after Gonzalez that would tighten gun restrictions on abusers had support in the Illinois legislature but stalled in November. It is expected to be considered again in the spring.
Mayor Brandon Johnson, who took office in May, has promised to increase the number of domestic violence advocate positions in the Chicago Police Department. These employees help victims with safety plans, find housing and obtain protective orders, and accompany victims to court.
Aileen Robinson, Chicago Police deputy director of crime victim services, said it was unclear what was driving the increase in domestic shootings. But she said many victims of domestic violence may not know what resources are available to them and many are hesitant to involve the police.
There is still a stigma around violence that occurs in the home, she added, and people who are not part of the family may refuse to get involved.
“We still live in a community that doesn't always recognize domestic violence,” she said. “We do not have enough resources when someone identifies that they are in a dangerous situation and need to flee. And we still have a value system where you stick with it and stick with it.”
Johnson has faced an avalanche of crises this year, including a surge of immigrants seeking refuge in Chicago that has strained the city's resources, and crimes beyond shootings that have alarmed residents, including a sharp rise in robberies and car thefts throughout the city.
In 2023, there were more than 28,000 motor vehicle thefts in Chicago, up 40 percent from 2022. Thefts increased 23 percent, to more than 10,600 incidents in 2023.
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