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Crime & Courts

Watching out: Volunteers hold Fox Valley domestic abuse courts accountable

ST. CHARLES – Domestic violence happens in cycles, and Jim Kintz said that’s important for Fox Valley Court Watch volunteers to understand as they observe court cases in Kane and Kendall counties.

Kintz, president of the organization, explained during a volunteer training session in St. Charles on Wednesday that couples typically experience a honeymoon phase, followed by building tension that ends with an explosion. Then it starts all over again.

“The honeymoon stage gets shorter, the tension stage gets longer and the explosion is more [intense],” he said about the cycle as it continues.

A group of about 15 new volunteers attended the training session, which touched on domestic abuse statistics, what it looks like and why people continue to stay in abusive relationships. A Court Watch volunteer’s job is to observe how the judicial system handles cases, and how judges, attorneys and witnesses interact with defendants and victims.

The organization has about 40 active members who attend court hearings, looking specifically at judges’ knowledge of each case, how much eye contact they make with the parties involved, tone of voice and time management. Reports are shared quarterly with 16th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Judith Brawka, as well as the public.

Fox Valley Court Watch has been around since 2010, and since then, several board members said they’ve seen improvements in the way courts handle domestic violence cases. Board member Diane Brown said she’s been involved with the organization for two years and said the courts “overall are doing a very good job.”

“Actually, we’ve seen an improvement,” she said. “We didn’t expect instant gratification, but it’s almost like we got it.”

Kintz said the dynamics of domestic violence reporting have changed in recent years. He said as more same-sex couples are reporting domestic abuse cases, the statistics have shifted to identify more men as victims; however, he said about 85 percent of victims are women.

Board member Terry Apple said when she got involved with Fox Valley Court Watch in 2010, she was surprised by the large volume of domestic abuse cases in the courts. She said she also was surprised by how long cases stay in the system before they’re closed.

“I’m amazed at how long it takes to go through the system,” she said. “I was always under the impression that it was very swift.”

Kintz pointed out to new volunteers that they likely would see victims recant their statements and ask for contact with the batterer. He said they would see abusers, most likely men, blaming somebody else for the abuse – usually the victim.

“Batterers are very good at hiding it,” he said. “He can be the nicest guy to everyone else in the world but the victim. He tells the victim that it was her fault. The victim doesn’t provoke the violence.”

He explained that abuse is a person’s way of controlling and manipulating someone. That can come in the form of sexual assaults, which he said are more common than people might think, as well as humiliation, financial control, verbal assaults and physical violence such as slapping, hitting, pinching and pulling hair. He said women stay in abusive relationships for many reasons, including fear, lack of finances and family.

New volunteer Barbara Riebe of St. Charles said she volunteers for Court Appointed Special Advocates, known as CASA Kane County for Children, and thought joining Fox Valley Court Watch would be a natural progression.

“I think everyone needs to be responsible for each other. We have to step up as a community,” she said. “I think some people think they don’t have a voice.”

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