Madigan: more needs to be done to help sexual assault victims

With as few as 5 percent of sexual assault victims on campuses going to police, more needs to be done to help victims feel confident in the legal system, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Tuesday.

"We know that the first point of contact is absolutely critical," Madigan told participants at a summit on the issue at Illinois State University. It was one of three such events her office has organized on sexual violence on campus.

The summit, which attracted about 150 college administrators, police and others who deal with students, followed Madigan's recent initiative to form the Sexual Assault Working Group to recommend ways to encourage more men and women to report assaults.

Women between the ages of 16 and 24 have the greatest likelihood of being victims of sexual offenses, said Madigan. About 6 percent of rapes involve male victims.

"We don't want the college experience to be defined by a sexual assault that has the potential to damage the rest of their life," said Madigan, before introducing Julie Dixon, a rape survivor from Ohio.

Dixon a volunteer with PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment) told the painful story of her sexual assault almost seven years ago at the University of Akron.

"It was the second week of college when somebody raped me. I went immediately to police. I didn't wash my hands, didn't shower," said Dixon, still overwhelmed emotionally with the memory of the assault.

She went to class the next day and every day for 20 months until her attacker was arrested.

In the meantime, the two shared the same dining hall on campus — a situation college staff said could only be avoided if she ate at a different time. Instead, she stopped eating and was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. Her assailant accepted a plea deal that avoided her having to testify at a trial.

The need for a safe place for victims after a campus assault is a key element of the assistance they need, said Dixon.

A McLean County sexual assault task force of police agencies reviews current cases. The group is used "as a training tool, to bounce ideas off each other and to help with consistency" in dealing with cases, said State's Attorney Jason Chambers.

The number of sex offenses reported at ISU in 2014 was 36, and 11 of them were on campus.

"ISU police took only a few of those overall reports as many individuals may not want to participate in a criminal investigation or may not respond to police inquiries," said ISU Police Chief Aaron Woodruff.

In 2015, ISU has received 14 reports, including three on campus. An upward trend of reports on and off campus may be due to increased awareness among students and faculty, he said.

In Normal nine reports were made between January and March, up from five for the first three month of 2014, said Police Chief Rick Bleichner. Two of those reports involved juvenile suspects, he said.