Madigan seeks change in handling of campus sexual assaults

The Department of Education last year released the names of dozens of schools under investigation for poor handling of sexual assault cases. Two of those were in Illinois: the University of Chicago and Knox College in Galesburg.

The issue was on the radar of lawmakers. Late in the spring legislative session the House and Senate approved a bill to improve collegiate responses to campus sexual assault. The legislation was sent to the governor in June.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan pushed the proposal, which would require new policies, confidential advisers, a fair process for dealing with allegations of sexual assault and a plan to train students and employees to improve awareness and prevent violence.

“I think we really have a legal and a moral obligation to improve our response to victims of sexual violence, and I think at this point around the country you can really see there’s a ground-up movement from students and survivors of sexual violence who’ve just had it,’’ Madigan says.

Of survivors of sexual violence, she says, “Instead of getting an education, their education is derailed because of enduring this crime. And far too often they’re not getting the support they need to get back on track and to heal and move on.’’

If signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, the legislation would require all colleges (public and private, two-year and four-year) to have a comprehensive sexual violence policy and that those colleges notify students of their rights and what accommodations can be made by the school after a rape or sexual assault.

The bill would also require that schools offer a confidential adviser to help sexual assault survivors to understand options in areas such as reporting or seeking medical or legal assistance.

“Another very important aspect of this is making sure all colleges have a fair and balanced process for adjudicating allegations of sexual violence, which has not been the case unfortunately in the past,” Madigan says.

“The numbers are really staggering. Clearly, there are too many sexual assaults taking place on college campuses right now. The numbers indicate that as many as one in five women who are at a college or university will experience either rape or attempted rape while they are going to school,’’ Madigan says. Meanwhile the number for male campus sexual assault survivors is 6 percent.

“Clearly, we have a system that’s broken, and I think what you can say in terms of the situation being better is that we at least have women who are willing to stand up and come forward and speak out about what’s taken place. Because they are demanding that changes are going to be made,’’ she says.

“I think to me the bright light here is we’re going to see change. It is going to be demanded from the federal and the state level, but most importantly it’s going to be demanded by students.”