ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — The number of domestic violence cases continues to rise annually in Rockford.

A group at Court Street United Methodist Church, 215 N Court St., is responding to the mayor’s public call to action, trying to let people know that there are resources out there if they are in need of help.

“My first experience as a child was seeing my next-door neighbor run out of her house in her night clothes because her husband was beating her in the house,” said Helen Gibbons, a domestic violence survivor.

Gibbons said that domestic violence has impacted her life from the time she was a young girl to her first marriage.

“I did face him, face-to-face, with his gun in my face,” Gibbons said.

None was more memorable than the time that she said her first husband tried to kill her.

“And I went into the kitchen in Chicago, and in one motion, I lit a match, I had this old fashion stove. I reached over this way to light my burner, I stepped back like this, and the oven doors blew off,” Gibbons said. “My husband had come in and turned the gas on the stove, knowing I was going to cook.”

Gibbons was one of many sharing stories at Court Street United’s domestic violence outreach committee meeting.

“We don’t trust each other, that’s the truth,” the church’s pastor said.

The group is joining the city, and other faith leaders across Rockford, in a desperate push to save lives.

“That was a great day, wasn’t it,” said Barb Ferry, organizer of the group.

Ferry said that she organized the group after realizing what so many are going through behind closed doors.

“We all know people who have been victims of domestic violence, we just don’t realize it,” Ferry said. “To have people come here, and trust that they could tell their stories and not be judged,
just gave me a lot of satisfaction in knowing that I could be a part of the solution.”

The solution is something that Rockford leaders are focusing on right now. Nearly 40% of the city’s violent crime comes from domestic violence. Counselors said that the number should actually be higher, considering that survivors will endure six to eight incidents of abuse on average before seeking help.

“When we first met, people came in and just told their stories. We just listened and supported each other,” Ferry said. “I’m not a trained counselor, I’m just a member of this church with a passion for helping people.”

The group has grown in numbers since its creation, helping to raise money for local organizations, participated in the Mayor’s Walk for Domestic Violence in October and donated items to shelters in the community.

Gibbons said that she is grateful for the group and hopes that the message will resonate far beyond the church’s pews.

“I think for them to hear that from all walks of life, women can tell their stories,” Gibbons said. “Especially walks of life that you would never suspect.”

The group’s goal for the new year is to get more men involved, hoping to teach boys from a younger age about right and wrong.

If you are a survivor of domestic or sexual violence, visit our Stateline Strong page for resources.