Statewide task force wants to improve response to sex assault

The Illinois attorney general and the Cook County state's attorney on Tuesday announced a statewide task force to improve the evidence collection, investigation and prosecution of sexual assault.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan compared the numbers of reported rapes to the numbers of people who sought assistance at an Illinois rape crisis center to point out what she called "critical failings" in the system.

In 2013, about 80,000 forcible rapes were reported across the country to law enforcement agencies, 4,000 of those in Illinois, according to the FBI.

But during the same period many more people in Illinois — nearly 9,000 adults and 9,000 children — sought assistance at one of the state's rape crisis centers and child advocacy centers.

That means that, in Illinois, the vast majority of survivors never reported their crimes, she said, which signals that the system's response is ineffective.

"Too many survivors of sexual assault unfortunately believe they will never find justice," Madigan said. "When sexual assault goes unreported, however, we don't just have a survivor whose life is damaged. We also have a situation that means that rapists will continue to be in our communities. They will continue to victimize the girls, the boy s, the men, the women whose lives will be forever damaged potentially by these horrible crimes."

Individual agencies have been taking steps to tackle problems such as a backlog of untested rape kits and a lack of medical examiners trained on sexual assault, but a more comprehensive approach is needed, Madigan said.

"I've learned over the y ears that at every single point, there seems to be a new problem that arises," she said. "I would say this is a systemic structural breakdown that we can all plainly see."

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said her office has implemented mandatory training about sex assault for assistant state's attorneys, including how to deal with cases of nonstranger and alcohol related rape. Her office has also started to make sure that a supervisor reviews the facts before a rape charge is declined.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly , who is also spearheading the task force, said there is inconsistency in how sexual assault is investigated across the state, partially because of varying attitudes about the crime. He also said there is too much time between when an offense is reported and when decisions about prosecution are made.

Polly Poskin executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the task force aims to reduce the length of time a victim and law enforcement agency must wait for completed DNA analysis.

"When this can take as much as 12 months ... it can be demoralizing to the investigator, and it can be a deterrent to victims to stay invested in the case,"Poskin said.

Members of the joint working group also include the Illinois State's Attorney s Association, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, the Illinois Sheriffs' Association, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority , the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Hospital Association, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, the Chicago Police Department, Rape Victim Advocates, The Center for the Prevention of Abuse, the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The work group will meet monthly, Madigan said.