EAST ST. LOUIS — Courtney Logan, an assistant state's attorney in St. Clair County, has a message he spreads in an effort to curb domestic violence: Prosecutors will pursue cases even if the victim doesn't want to testify.
Logan who grew up in East St. Louis in a family where there was continued unreported domestic violence, said if police are called and they decide that domestic violence occurred, it is no longer the victim's choice on whether the case will go forward.
"Once we find out that the law of Illinois has been violated, it is our job to protect the victim," said Logan, who specializes in prosecuting domestic violence cases. "Most of the time the victim does not want to testify for us. They either say no or say it never happened," he said.
Logan and other experts spoke last week at City Hall before a group about 100 people, most of whom were women, about domestic violence and human trafficking. The event was called Women United Against Violence. It was sponsored by the East St. Louis Police Department and organized by Francella Jackson, director of community programs for the East St. Louis Police Department. The Violence Prevention Center, and Call For Help co-sponsored the event.
Some of the audience members were women who have survived domestic abuse and have gotten themselves out of the abuse. They came out to share their stories in hope of helping others in the community who are in the same situation. Some were there to seek information on what to do if they have a friend or family member who is a victim.
Jackie Smith, with Call For Help, told the crowd that a woman is raped every two minutes in the United States.
"No one deserves to be raped and anyone can be a victim," she said.
"Walk with confidence," Smith said. "Never appear to be unsure. Carry few bags when you are entering or leaving your house. Keep your keys and cellphone in your hand. Lock your doors the minute you enter your car. Don't take short cuts through alleys or dimly lit streets.
"Yell 'fire,' not 'help' if you are in danger. This will get you some attention a lot quicker," she said.
Debbie Mize, with the Violence Prevention Center, told the crowd that domestic violence is not an East St. Louis issue, "It's a human race issue."
She told the women that abusers get away with the violence because they learn how to manipulate.
"We think it will never happen to me," Mize said. "I thought the same thing. None of us are 100 percent protected because somebody is out there committing domestic violence all of the time. They do it in the name of love."
Some signs of an abuser Mize said is a man who doesn't want his wife or girlfriend to go out with her friends. He has to be around all of the time, she said.
"He loves the way you dress on a first date, but six months later he wants you to go back and change your outfit. The abuser wants power and control," Mize said.
"We give up our power because that's what we think we are supposed to do. You go back and change your outfit and you just bought your ticket," Mize said.
Mize told the audience that there are very few "Leave It To Beaver" families. And many times children grow up seeing abuse in their families.
She said everyone should have five people they can call on in the middle of the night.
Mize said kids are taught abuse in many families.
"Moms, please stop telling your children that violence is the answer," Mize said. She urged women to pay attention to how they are treated. She said victims should take pictures of the abuse perpetrated on them and call police. And she urged church goers to tell the stories of abused women in their churches and share their own stories if they are victims or survivors of domestic violence. She said sharing that experience might help someone who feels they can't get out.
Police Chief Michael Floore implored the women in the audience to take a stand for themselves and to understand that they do not have to be victims of domestic violence.
"If he hit you today, he will hit you tomorrow. You can't go back," he said forcefully.
Floore said the Police Department would do its part to make the arrest of the abuser, but the female had to have the courage to make the call then agree to prosecute.
"I feel like you're my sister if you are a victim," he said.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton was in the audience to talk about domestic violence and human trafficking.
He told the crowd that he was born in 1963 in the old Christian Welfare Hospital that once stood in East St. Louis. His family moved out because things there got too violent, he said.
"We're not going to lose hope. We can do better East St. Louis. Women are the heart and soul of the community. To see the women united against violence, warms my heart," Wigginton said.
He told the crowd that statistics show that most families in East St. Louis have a single parent and are headed by women. Wigginton told women that domestic violence and living in fear because of abuse are unacceptable. He encouraged them to seek help.
Several members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Delta Sigma Theta sorority and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity were on hand, too. Community leaders and residents were there as well.
Wigginton told the Kappa brothers that as male leaders in the community, their message to young black males should be, "You need to stop shooting one another, start respecting the women in your life. Don't verbally or physically abuse them and, take care of your babies. This will drive down the violence in this community."
Then, he turned his attention to human trafficking. He told the people that the crime is done in secret and is hard to identify. He said people are held in captive right out in the open, he said. Many of these people come to America seeking a better life and find themselves in situations where they can never pay off their debt to the person who brought them in. He said the two most common forms of human trafficking are labor and sex trafficking.
Some victims can't speak English and some are afraid to call police out of fear of being arrested. Some victims may be drug addicts and a man could be making them work the streets to get money for their drugs," Wigginton said.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.