Karina’s Bill’ a lifeline for domestic violence victims

By Kathleen Sances and Rebecca Darr Guest columnists

From the moment COVID-19 touched our shores, it has exacerbated many of our country’s systemic issues, such as racial discrimination and economic injustice. In the midst of shining a harsh light on these matters, COVID-19 has also resulted in what the United Nations refers to as the “shadow pandemic,” which is an alarming uptick in intimate-partner violence.

According to a report by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, domestic violence cases increased by 25-33 percent worldwide at the height of the pandemic. Three years later, the United States continues to see an increase in this disturbing trend, including right here in Illinois.

As if domestic violence isn’t already deadly on its own, our nation’s unique epidemic of gun violence only makes this issue even more dangerous. A 2018 study found that, in the U.S., around 4.5 million women have been threatened with a gun and nearly one million women have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.

Sadly, the likelihood of a woman being murdered is five times greater when her abuser has access to a gun. While not all victims may feel comfortable disclosing their true gender identity for a multitude of reasons, domestic violence impacts men, transgender individuals and gender-nonconforming members of our communities, as well.

Here in Illinois, the number of shootings and homicides linked to domestic violence has more than doubled since 2019. In 2022 alone, there were 106 domestic violence shooting incidents reported from 22 counties across the state.

The increase in domestic violence-related shootings is a clear indication for more comprehensive policies directly addressing this crisis.

What’s more, the risk of intimate-partner homicide is especially high when victims and survivors attempt to leave their abusive relationships or seek security by filing an order of protection with the courts.

This is exactly what happened on July 3, 2023, when Karina and her 15-year-old daughter, Daniela, were shot and killed by Karina’s husband. This heartbreaking event took place despite the fact that Karina had filed for an order of protection that should have saved her and her daughter’s lives. While Karina’s tragedy is heartbreaking, it unfortunately is not an isolated incident.

But this can change by the end of this year, thanks to a new bill currently being weighed in Springfield, that is named in honor of Karina. Karina’s Bill aims to clarify and strengthen Illinois’ Domestic Violence Act and Firearm Restraining Order Act by requiring a firearm to be removed when a domestic violence survivor is granted the firearm remedy in an order of protection. This measure would also add intimate partners to the list of petitioners in the Firearm Restraining Orders Act to create additional avenues of firearm relief.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and there is no better time for our lawmakers to show up for the victims and survivors of intimate partner violence by passing Karina’s Bill and strengthening the laws we already have on the books.

Victims and their children should not have to live in fear and uncertainty of what tomorrow may bring. When domestic violence survivors go to the courts for protection, it is our duty and our moral obligation to ensure that the legal system works for them and that they receive the care, safety and support they deserve.

With 82 percent of Americans in favor of gun restrictions specifically for those convicted of domestic violence, the time to act is now. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and allow more people to go unnoticed without the advocacy and help they need.

Let’s do this for Illinois, let’s do this for victims and let’s do this for Karina. Kathleen Sances is the president and CEO of the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention PAC. Rebecca Darr is president and CEO of WINGS Program.

As the Lake County State’s Attorney, I am honored and humbled every day to lead the fight against crime, and to strive to ensure equal and just treatment under the law. I have been an attorney for twenty-two years – and each of those years has made me a stronger and smarter advocate for people, for ideas, and for the principles that unite us all.

I am so proud to lead an office of 140 dedicated colleagues who serve the public by prosecuting crime, advocating for victims, and planning crime prevention programs. I am also proud to work with hundreds of Lake County police officers on a daily basis to connect with every community and to develop comprehensive, holistic plans to respond to the mental health and economic crisis that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On one particular day, July 4, 2022, I was saddened, inspired, and motivated by the bravery of so many people. We will always stand with the victims and honor the police and other first responders who ran toward the danger. Just as so many heroes that day thought only of themselves, I also witnessed the prosecutors in my office answer the call to serve survivors and their community – even on one of its darkest days.

Every moment that I have been your legal representative, I have worked tirelessly to oversee prosecutions and to implement policies that make my family and my neighbors safer in the short term and in the long term. That is the job of the State’s Attorney: to prosecute, to innovate, and to strategically plan.

I was raised in a small town. My parents are teachers, and from them, I learned that everyone must be treated equally and that America’s sacred mission is to provide a political, economic, and legal system that allows anyone to prosper regardless of the circumstances of their birth. After graduating from Knox College and the University of Chicago Law School, I spent two years at a first-rate civil law firm in Chicago where I learned that hard work and attention to detail on every case mean the difference between success and failure.

With my wonderful wife Stephanie, I am raising my two sons, Sam and Teddy, in Lake County. Nothing is more important to me than my family’s safety and I bring that passion and determination to protect all families with me to work every day.

I joined the Lake County Public Defender’s Office in 2003 and started my own law firm in 2009. From 2003 until 2020, I watched the Lake County legal system fail to prioritize violent crime, prevent wrongful prosecutions, or address racial disparities.

So, in 2019, I decided to run for State’s Attorney so that I could serve our community by improving a local legal system that cared more about covering up its mistakes and biases than uncovering new and innovative ways to help people.

I won the 2020 election, and became the first Democrat to hold this position in 40 years. Bringing in a new party wasn’t as important as ending 40 years of one mindset that had forgotten the people and that had failed to act urgently to develop new strategic plans to prevent crime while also ensuring that each prosecution is smart, moral, and just.

We have followed through on our promises. We have built the first-ever violent crimes unit, increased prosecutors in our domestic violence division, and vastly upgraded our cyber lab. Now, we have top-notch software and personnel to finally keep up with those who would exploit others.

We have been awarded a large federal grant to bring the first ever Human Trafficking Task Force to Lake County. We have deepened our investment in people by bringing in more victim specialists and raising the salaries of many of our prosecutors.

But the work goes on. We must expand our prevention efforts that are starting with the Gun Violence Prevention Initiative launched in 2022. And we know that the opioid crisis touches thousands of lives throughout this country.

I am proud to serve on the Executive Board of the Lake County Opioid Initiative which has been working tirelessly since its founding in 2012 to reverse a devastating trend of increased overdoses. In 2022, our office was part of a national settlement against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

As an attorney of 22 years, I have committed my life to helping people, and I have conducted over 70 jury trials in Lake County, and handled appeals that have culminated in over 20 oral arguments before the appellate court and Supreme Court of Illinois.

I see my time in this office as the next phase of helping a community that I love and where I have chosen to raise my family. In my first term, we have made Lake County safer and fairer through just prosecutions, constitutional policing, and innovative crime prevention policies.