A new law in Illinois will strengthen the rights of sexual assault victims.
The new law, signed Friday by Gov. Bruce Rauner, was the result of changes proposed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan and came after a BND investigative report in February 2015 called Violation of Trust.
The new law provides victims of sexual assault stricter protections during the evidence collection process and ensures transfer of evidence from hospital to police in a timely manner. It also allows the state to hire forensic scientists to analyze evidence and addresses the decade-long rape kit backlog at state crime labs.
“As a state, we must do everything within our power to ensure victims are supported and that their aggressors are quickly brought to justice,” Rauner said.
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“We stand with the victims of these malicious crimes. This bill strengthens the policy behind evidence collection and give the state tools to speed up the testing process to ensure victims have the ability to hold their aggressors accountable and get the justice they deserve.”
Madigan formed the Sexual Assault Working Group, which initiated the legislation to address the fact that most sexual assault survivors do not report their crimes to police. The task force was created after the Belleville News-Democrat published its four-day series called “Violation of Trust” that reported 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 the 32 counties in southernmost Illinois from 2005-13.
The law requires:
▪ Police and dispatchers to put into place evidence-based, trauma-informed, victim-centered policies governing responses to sexual assault.
▪ Police officer be required to complete written reports of every sexual assault, regardless of who is reporting the crime and where it occurred.
▪ Victim-sensitivity training be provided for police investigators, first-responders and 911 operators.
▪ That victims are entitled to updates on the status of testing of sexual assault evidence by the state crime law. Illinois State Police will be required to respond to status requests unless doing so would compromise the investigation.
▪ A time period for survivors to consent to testing of their sexual assault forensic evidence will be extended from 14 days to five years after the assault. Victims who are minors will have five years from their 18th birthday to consent to testing the evidence.
“Prosecutors across Illinois are committed to seeking justice for survivors of sexual assault, and this law is a first step in our efforts to hold more offenders accountable and, most importantly, to meet the needs of survivors,” said St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, who was one of the members of the sexual assault working group.
The working group, led by Madigan, Cook County state’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Kelly and Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Polly Poskin, composed the legislation which was sponsored by Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, and Rep. Emily McAsey, D-Lockport.
“From providing training to first responders to enabling survivors to receive information about evidence testing, this law represents a top to bottom effort at improving our process for survivors of sexual assaults,” said Bennett, a former prosecutor. “I am proud to see this important measure become law.”
“A survivor’s road to recovery following a sexual assault is long, and it begins as soon as first responders arrive on the scene,” McAsey said. “This law is so important to make sure survivors have the support and services they need every step of the way, which is crucial to recovery.”
The new law will require victim-centered policies and sexual assault response training for police and first responders, including 911 operators, to improve the response to survivors and encourage more survivors to report their crimes.
“Under this law, 911 operators, first responders and law enforcement will receive specialized training to assist survivors of rape and sexual assault, which is absolutely critical, as they are some of the first individuals a survivor encounters,” Poskin said.
Studies show one of every five American woman and one in 33 men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes. It is estimated that 43 percent of lesbian and bisexual women and 30 percent of gay and bisexual men have been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
Last year, Madigan drafted and successfully worked to pass the Preventing Sexual Violence on Campus Act to set standards for all colleges and universities to prevent and respond to sexual violence. She also made Illinois the first state in the country to mandate the testing of sexual assault evidence kits.
“Sexual assault is a devastating crime that is rarely reported to law enforcement. Our working group spent more than a year taking a comprehensive look at why and how our criminal justice system can better respond, investigate and support survivors,” Madigan said.
“Illinois will now require police to undergo specialized training and follow specific protocols for incidents of sexual assault that should encourage more survivors to come forward and receive justice. These are significant changes to improve our response to sexual assault crimes.”
For more information about the Crime Victims Services Division or the rights afforded to survivors of crime, visit Madigan’s website at http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/ or call the toll-free Crime Victims’ Assistance Line at 1-800-228-3368 or 1-877-398-1130 (TTY).