Program helping domestic violence victims expanding

By Nick Kovatch on December 21 at 7:02am

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A statewide pilot program helping domestic violence victims find free legal services is expanding.

The “Virtual Legal Clinic” has been available in Jacksonville for about a year-and-a-half at the city’s Crisis Center Foundation. It started in Peoria and Cairo, and is now available in Rockford, Rochelle and Freeport.

Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, who implemented the program, says someone can go to a shelter or other participating agency and get free legal help via video link.

“Folks who are using this service are already connected with domestic violence shelters and service centers in these parts of the state,” says Simon. “When they’ve achieved their order of protection and still need further legal services then they’re connected by a webcam to an attorney who could be anywhere in the state.”

Simon says domestic battery is a different kind of crime.

“If you’re in a barroom fight, you’re probably going to be pretty anxious to prosecute the person who hit you,” says Simon of the complexity of these cases. “In domestic violence, the victim and the perpetrator often have children in common … and live together and are married and, despite the violent nature of the relationship, have many social pressures keeping them together.”

Simon’s office says 80 of Illinois’ 102 counties have five or fewer family law attorneys. Forty-seven of those 80 have none.