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Support for Victims of Violent Crime, Breaking Cycles of Violence

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014   

CHICAGO - With more than 200 homicides already reported in Chicago this year, there are many families and surviving victims facing a difficult road of recovery.

Susan Johnson, executive director of Chicago's Citizens for Change, runs a violence survivors' network called Chicago Survivors. She says victims of violence, and their families, often live in low-income communities and have been exposed to high levels of stress and crime over time. She says they need a supportive community that shows compassion and empathy, and doesn't wrongly place the blame on them.

"The police have a role, the M.E.'s office has a role, hospital personal of course, have a role," she says. "But when we talk about having a trauma-informed city, we're talking about subtle shifts in how traumatized people are treated that contribute to their ability to recover."

Victims and families of violent crime need community resources to help them face the burden of funeral costs, legal issues, and sometimes creditors. Johnson says counseling and support groups are also beneficial in helping survivors overcome trauma and prevent risky behaviors and violence in the future.

Johnson notes that job loss, loss of a home, and the inability to complete school are also very real problems in the aftermath of violence. She says access to those resources is needed before the police tape comes down.

"We're looking at intervening at that moment to help families stay together and help them stabilize," she says. "And especially to give young people ways to process what's happened to them so that they can be resilient and return to school, while parents get back to jobs."

Chicago's Citizens for Change is working with the city to develop a protocol that police, hospitals, and social-service agencies can use to help direct victims of violent crime to available resources. She says ending the cycle of violence should be a priority of everyone in the community.

"If we only think about it as response, if we don't think about it as prevention of new violence in the future, than we're missing the big picture," says Johnson. "We need to be serving these families because we can cut down on community violence."

Johnson's Chicago Survivors' group is developing an Internet network of available services, a 24-hour telephone hotline, and trained crisis team volunteers to work with those traumatized by violence.

This story is based on reporting from a yearlong Colorlines investigation by reporter Carla Murphy in Chicago. Murphy's reporting was done in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.


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