Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Tuesday announced the creation of a task force to improve the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults.
There is a “systemic structural breakdown" in the way sex crimes are investigated and prosecuted, Madigan said. "We have a legal and moral obligation to fix this system."
“The system is broken, and too often we fail the victims of sexual assault,” the attorney general said.
The task force will be headed by Madigan, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, and Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Polly Poskin.
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The task force’s creation follows a four-day series published last month by the BND called “Violation of Trust,” which reported that 70 percent of rape cases reported to police in Southern Illinois don’t make it to court. The article compared the number of criminal sexual assault and abuse cases reported to police with the number of cases filed by prosecutors in 32 counties from 2005 to 2013.
“The investigative reporting done by the Belleville News-Democrat showed us that this is not isolated to one county, rural, suburban or urban area,” Kelly said. “It happens in all areas across the state. The reporting gave us additional ammunition to push this issue forward .”
Madigan said too many survivors of sexual assault believe they will never find justice.
"When sexual assault goes unreported, we don't just have a survivor whose life is damaged. We also have a situation that means that rapists will continue to be in our communities. They will continue to victimize the girls, the boys, the men, the women whose lives will be forever damaged potentially by these horrible crimes," Madigan said.
Some local agencies have been trying to get caught up on a backlog of untested rape kits and addressing a lack of medical examiners trained on sexual assault, but a more comprehensive approach is needed, Madigan said.
Kelly said there are inconsistencies in how sexual assault is investigated across the state, partially because of varying attitudes about the crime. He said there often is too much time between when a rape is reported and when a decision about prosecution is made.
Poskin said 78 percent of rape victims who consent to a rape kit in Illinois receive a bill for medical services, and of those, 40 percent are sent to a collection agency. Poskin called that “revictimization.”
Madigan said a component of this project is training for prosecutors and police. That means addressing medical care, advocacy, investigation, prosecution training and any legislative changes that need to happen, Madigan said.
"We are going to find a way to solve this problem," she said.
Other members of the task force will include the Illinois State's Attorneys Association; the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police; the Illinois Sheriffs' Association; the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority; the Illinois State Police; the Illinois Hospital Association; Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; the Chicago Police Department, Rape Victim Advocates; The Center for the Prevention of Abuse; the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
According to the BND’s investigation, which was published in February, only 18 percent of felony sex cases reported to police in St. Clair County resulted in criminal prosecutions. During the nine-year period, St. Clair County police departments presented one in three reports of felony sex crimes involving adult defendants to prosecutors, or 620 cases. Of those, 205 were accepted for charges. Since Kelly took office in 2010, the office has improved its performance, prosecuting about half of the cases presented by police.
In Madison County, the prosecution rate was double that of St. Clair — 38 percent, compared to St. Clair’s 18 percent.
In Jackson County, home of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, which has an enrollment of 18,000 students, just 13 percent of rape cases reported to police were prosecuted. SIUC campus police investigated 52 reports of felony sex crimes during the nine-year period. Only five of those, or 10 percent, resulted in criminal charges.
The investigation also found that cities with the largest police departments and most detectives had some of the lowest prosecution rates. In Belleville, it was 16 percent; Carbondale, 8 percent; and East St. Louis, 7 percent.