ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Domestic violence is the root of much of Rockford’s crime.

The city is now getting guidance on how to help survivors from people who know what it is like to live in fear. A Rockford group is giving those survivors a voice.

“We came together, more than 200 people… to have sessions and brainstorm about how to get this place off the ground,” said Delicia Harris, founding member of “VOICES Survivor Support Group.”

That was one of the early stages of getting Rockford’s Family Peace Center operational several years ago. Those 200 people included the likes of service providers, religious leaders, first responders and abuse survivors.

“This is not just decoration. If a survivor needs to cuddle up here…then you can do that,” Harris said.

In fact, those survivors have been very important to how the city responds to domestic violence.

“We help to guide the work of this center, we help to guide the work of the mayor’s office, and everything they do to make sure it’s from the lens of a survivor,” Harris said. “To make sure it’s survivor- centered, survivor-focused and that it encompasses ‘trauma informed care.'”

The advisory group has a name. It is appropriately called “VOICES.” The goal is to empower survivors of domestic and sexual assault.

“If you look at some of the data, women stay because they don’t think that there are resources, but there are tons are resources,” Harris said. “But, if you don’t know where they are, you think staying is your best option.”

The Family Peace Center recognized members of the VOICES group on the “Hall of Hope” to put a face on survivors. Harris is one of the founding members.

“I’m a survivor of domestic and sexual assault,” she said. “I’m not ashamed to talk about it. In fact, I’m proud to talk about it.”

Harris shares her story to help others heal. They relate to her.

“They feel safer, they feel understood,” she said. “They feel believed.”

There is no typical client looking for help, but cases do have some things in common. Abuse often starts out slowly and then snowballs.

“They just think, ‘Oh, he’s just tired or he’s just frustrated,’ But no, he’s controlling, he’s manipulative, he or she is abusive,” Harris said. “And so, when you wake up one day you think, ‘how did I get here?'”

Those situations hit close to home for Harris.

“I’m still healing, and when I do this work, that’s what helps me to continue to heal, and offer healing to others,” she said.

The Family Peace Center is often where that healing begins, according to Harris.

“It’s not about how the survivor feels when they come, it’s about how they feel when they leave,” she said.

If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation and needs to get out, the first step is to contact Rockford’s Family Peace Center at (779) 348-7600. The “VOICES” group is always looking for new members as well. Meetings happen every month at the center. Those who wish to join should call the center and ask for Delicia.

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