The need following a homicide is broad and deep. Chicago averaged 538 homicides per year from 2013-2017, with spikes in 2016 and 2017 of 762 and 650. Following a homicide, the victim’s surviving family members experience complex emotional and physiological responses to the trauma. In the days and months following a homicide, surviving families are vulnerable to misinformation, confusion, predatory behavior, threats and intimidation, and the risk of re-injury and poly-victimization. They have practical needs that range from crime scene cleanup and funeral costs to child guardianship and personal safety.
The violent and criminal manner of death, poor community-police relations and relatively low clearance rate for homicides in Chicago confound survivor recovery. Most survivor families do not know their rights as crime victims. Furthermore, victim self-isolation, overwhelming fear, grief, poverty and other factors make it very difficult for families to seek services or advocate for themselves, or to participate fully in the criminal justice system. Homicide traumatizes families, who are at risk for reduced parental capacity, parent-child role reversal, substance abuse and caregiver loss. Family members may seek to retaliate; many more are exposed to others’ retaliation plans. Seventy-five percent of surviving families have minor children in the home. In Chicago, as elsewhere, children are exposed to violence at three times the rate of adults.
Chicago Survivors wraps care around this most vulnerable population of survivors within hours of the crime. Our services are proactive, trauma-informed, and survivor-shaped. They are delivered in the home over a period of at least six months, with criminal justice advocacy and Community of Survivor events continuing indefinitely. In Illinois, by statute and the State Constitution, the immediate family members of a homicide victim are also victims of the crime. They have crime victims’ rights and they are entitled to crime victims’ services. Still, in a study of Illinois victims of violent crime, 30% did not know about crime victim services, 58% reported that they did not know where to go to receive services, and 45% assumed they would be deemed ineligible and did not attempt to access services. Chicago Survivors strives to overcome the barriers to service-seeking in order to serve all of the victims of Chicago’s homicides.
Recovery is a slow process of learning how to carry one’s loss in less destabilizing, healthier and more meaningful ways. Set-backs are common and normal. However, survivors also possess many strengths. Through the resilience and creativity they express through support groups, workshops, memorial and social events, survivors forge new meaning in their lives. Survivors benefit each other immeasurably from peer support with people who have survived similar pain and loss. With encouragement, they even choose to use their experience in prevention; survivors are passionate and authentic anti-violence advocates.