Every police officer in the state will receive additional training in the investigation of felony sex crimes, especially how to treat victims without increasing their trauma, if proposed legislation making its way through the Illinois Senate becomes law.
“This is the most comprehensive legislation on sexual assault in years and hopefully it will have an impact for years to come,” said St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, a member of a special statewide task force on felony sex crimes launched last year by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
“The act of sexual assault can inflict horrific trauma upon a victim. We have to acknowledge sexual assault victims are too often re-traumatized by their experience with criminal justice because the response to victims does not take into account how trauma can impact the actions of victims in ways that are very different than other crimes,” Kelly said.
“Training and retraining in a way that is trauma-informed and victim centered will have ripple effects throughout the entire system...This is the linchpin of this new approach to sexual assault. ”
The sex crime task force was launched about two weeks after the Belleville News-Democrat published a four-day investigative series, “Violation of Trust,” which reported that from 2005-2013 across a 32-county region of Southern Illinois, 70 percent of 6,744 felony sex crimes reported to police were not prosecuted. In St. Clair County, the rate was 82 percent, and that of those who were prosecuted, 95 percent never saw prison time.
Senate Bill 3096 was the subject of a teleconference Wednesday with Madigan, Kelly, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Executive Director Polly Poskin of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and state Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, the legislation’s sponsor.
A purpose of the legislation is to “encourage more sexual assault survivors to come forward and increase the successful prosecution of sexual assault crimes in Illinois,” according to a statement from Madigan’s office.
“Our working group took a comprehensive and honest look at how the criminal justice system handles sexual assault cases,” Madigan said. “This legislation will require best practices for sexual assault cases statewide that encourages survivors to come forward and ensure that justice is being served.”
The majority of sexual assault survivors do not report their attacks to law enforcement for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they don’t think they will be believed or received justice,” said Bennett, a former prosecutor. “I appreciate Attorney General Madigan’s leadership on this important legislation, which will help encourage survivors to come forward and receive support.
State Sen. Scott Bennett, bill sponsor
The bill requires:
▪ “All law enforcement agencies” to adopt by Jan. 1, 2018, written policies outlining how they will handle felony sex crime investigation with an emphasis on, “victim-centered handling of reported incidents of sexual assault and sexual abuse, including dispatcher response, report writing, victim interviewing and mandatory training.”
▪ That all reports of felony sex crimes, even those received by a police agency outside their jurisdiction, be written and transmitted to the proper agency within 24 hours. The bill also states that no victim can be compelled to give a report and that another person, with the consent of the victim, may provide police with information. This includes a friend or family member.
▪ That police must inform a sex crime victim of where to go for medical treatment, that such treatment will be provided at no cost, the officer’s name and badge number and a least one referral to a local rape crisis center. Police must also provide transportation to a hospital or to the nearest location of a judge if the victim wishes to obtain an emergency protection order against an alleged assailant.
▪ All sexual evidence of sexual assault abuse must be sent to a police crime laboratory for testing and must be picked up when the testing is complete. The victim must be notified whether a test has produced a DNA profile and whether the alleged assailant tested positive for drugs or alcohol.
“Law enforcement has no chance of bringing a perpetrator to justice if the offense is never reported,” Kelly said.
Bill-sponsor Bennett said a goal of the legislation is to increase the victims who go to police.
“The majority of sexual assault survivors do not report their attacks to law enforcement for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they don’t think they will be believed or received justice,” said Bennett, a former prosecutor. “I appreciate Attorney General Madigan’s leadership on this important legislation, which will help encourage survivors to come forward and receive support.”
Kelly said that a strong element of the proposed law is the requirement that all reports of felony sex crimes must be written up and investigated by police.
“From a prosecutor’s perspective, it is absolutely critical to ensure that law enforcement is doing everything possible to conduct thorough sexual assault investigations and meticulous evidence collection,” Alvarez said. “This comprehensive legislation initiative will help to ensure that this occurs in every single incident of sexual assault and will help to create and environment of accountability for sexual offenders in all of our communities.”
During fiscal year 2015, 9,593 people called Illinois rape crisis center hotlines and 8,908 survivors received in-person services. During the same year, 10,241 children were referred to child advocacy centers for sexual abuse. Despite those numbers, studies suggest that only between 5 percent and 20 percent of rapes are reported to police, and only a small number of those reported are prosecuted.
“I believe if the tenets of this bill are fully implemented prosecutions will inevitably increase,” he said, “Perhaps more importantly, victims will know that someone listened, someone cared, someone gave a damn about what happened to them and just knowing that law enforcement did everything they could might help that victim begin to heal...And that is part of justice.”