New law strengthens colleges’ attention to assaults
A measure by Attorney General Lisa Madigan to help colleges and universities prevent and address sexual assaults is now law.
House Bill 821, sponsored by Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, and Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, was signed Friday by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
This spring, Madigan convened summits around the state to discuss the Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act, which sets standards to prevent and respond to sexual violence at higher education institutions throughout the state.
“Under this new law, schools will be required to better prevent and respond to sexual violence,” Madigan said. “Schools play a vital role in a survivor’s recovery by providing support and resources that will enable a student to heal and continue his or her education.”
“Sexual violence on college campuses has to stop, and bringing the issue into the open is an important step toward ending that culture,” Hutchinson said.
Julia Dixon, who said she was sexually assaulted while at the University of Akron, is an ambassador for Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment. She spoke at summits this spring to advocate for changing school policies regarding rape and sexual assault.
“Being sexually assaulted as a student can easily derail the rest of your collegiate career, but it does not have to,” Dixon said. “Having established campus protocols can be the difference between a survivor dropping out or receiving a diploma. Whether it is by helping survivors report their attacks to law enforcement, access counseling or even adjust their schedules to help avoid encounters with their attackers, schools can help survivors begin their recoveries without sacrificing their educations.”
Studies show that one in five undergraduate women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape. The U.S. Department of Education said women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of sexual assault and rape among women, and about 6 percent of male undergrads also become victims of sexual assault.
A U.S. Senate survey last year of 440 four-year higher education institutions found that more than 40 percent of the schools had not conducted a single investigation into allegations of sexual violence. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating about 100 schools for failure to comply with federal law in preventing, investigating and reporting incidents of sexual assault on their campuses.
The new law, which goes into effect in August 2016, will ensure Illinois colleges and universities develop a clear, comprehensive campus sexual violence policy, including detailed incident reporting options and university response guidelines; notify victims about their rights, including their right to confidentiality, and the protections the university can provide to ensure the student’s health and safety, such as obtaining an order of protection, changing class schedules or campus housing, and the availability of medical and counseling services; and provide a confidential adviser to victims to help them understand their options to report the crime and seek medical and legal assistance.
In addition, schools will be required to adopt a fair, balanced process for handling allegations of sexual violence and will be required to train students and campus employees to prevent sexual violence and improve awareness and responsiveness to allegations of sexual violence.