In response to a report on the number of rape claims that result in prosecutions, St. Clair County prosecutors will change the way they handle sex crimes, according to State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly.
A four-day News-Democrat investigative series — Violation of Trust — reported that between 2005-2013, some 1,525 people told police they were sexually violated in St. Clair County, but prosecutors did not file charges. Those alleged victims represent 82 percent of the total rape reports made to police during that period.
“Prosecutors are the top law enforcement official in every county. So we have to lead. We have to set the tone. And in St. Clair County, we doubled the number of cases that are violent crime cases, we tripled the number of domestic violence cases, we quadrupled the number of public integrity cases and we should meet this challenge with the same vigor and creativity,” Kelly said.
Kelly said he met Thursday with a county police chiefs organization and discussed the newspaper’s findings.
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On Friday, Kelly said he’s proposing the following changes in how rape cases are handled in St. Clair County:
Requesting the county’s approximately 29 police departments to provide a monthly report detailing all crimes, including felony sex crimes, for the purpose of allowing prosecutors to set priorities. The goal is to improve the system to provide a “real-time” crime report from each department, Kelly said, in order to allow him to shift resources to departments depending on crime reports.
Obtaining a grant to pay for two prosecutors trained in sex-crime investigation, and prosecutors to be on-call to immediately respond exclusively to rapes and felony abuse reports to police.
Establishing a protocol, or set of recommended procedures, for felony sex crimes, similar to protocols already in place for other violent crimes.
Setting up a “vertical prosecution” policy where the same prosecutor stays with the case from when it is reported to police, deciding if charges should be issued and if any plea deal should be offered or if the case should go to trial.
Under Kelly, who took office in 2010, more reports of sex crimes are resulting in prosecutions. In 2012 and 2013, about 30 percent of reports have resulted in charges being filed.
“I think it is a positive trend,” he said about the 2012-13 numbers. “I think we have a trend that is headed the right way, but we’re still well short of where we need to be.”
The BND series reported that overall for the nine-year period, 6,744 felony sex crimes were reported in a 32-county region of Southern Illinois, and 4,721, or 70 percent, were not prosecuted. Counties with non-prosecution rates similar to St. Clair’s included Jackson County, home of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Jefferson County. State’s attorneys in those counties could not be reached.
Gail Thomas, a former prosecutor and a professor at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale School of Law and head of the school’s Domestic Violence Clinic, said about the newspaper’s investigation, “if those statistics are accurate, I think there are enough people in the community who care enough, including the state’s attorney, police and the women’s center, that there will be a real effort to improve the prosecutions of sex crimes.”
Polly Poskin, the executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said of the series’ findings: “I think the message I want state’s attorneys to have is that you are the leadership, you are the standard-bearers, you identify what’s the level of accountability for this crime. That’s where it has to come from.”
Poskin, who said she has worked for 33 years in organizations that help sex-crime victims and work to decrease the rate of such crimes, added: “The bravery and courage of rape victims to report rape has been demonstrated. They come forward in droves.”