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Thursday, May 26, 2016 12:07 am

A better way to investigate rape

Legislation includes law enforcement training

 After a 15-year-old girl from outside Chicago was raped in 2007, she and her family waited for eight years with uncertainty about whether her rape test results would offer a resolution.

A 2013 investigation by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office found 176 rape kits in the basement of the Village of Robbins police department. The kits never made it to the Illinois State Police crime lab to be analyzed. One of those kits belonged to the 15-year-old from Harvey.

According to the Illinois State Police, as of April 2016 there were still 1,651 untested rape cases in the agency’s DNA testing backlog.

A bill to revamp how sexual assault and rape cases are handled by first responders is moving through the General Assembly this legislative session. Currently, the bill has passed through the Senate and is waiting to be debated on the House floor.

Sponsored by Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, the bill comes from the Joint Sexual Assault Working Group, requiring law enforcement to implement a training program by 2018. The group is made up of Attorney General Lisa Madigan, two state’s attorneys, law enforcement agencies, Rep. Emily McAsey, D-Romeoville, and Bennett.

By 2018, all law enforcement agencies would have to implement a specialized training program that would be facilitated by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. The training would involve teaching law enforcement how to ask questions in a way that relieves sexual assault victims of blame. Emergency dispatch centers will also be required to get training under the bill.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan says there is a legal and moral obligation to fix the way the criminal justice system handles sexual assault cases.

“What we’ve heard is that there is a blame-the-victim mentality among law enforcement, and a huge part of this training is to ensure that victims feel like they are believed,” Madigan said during an interview with Illinois Times.

“Trauma-informed” training would change how a victim is questioned by law enforcement during the initial encounter. First responders would be taught to ask questions about how it felt to be in the situation, as opposed to just asking what the offender looked like.

“We’re really talking about a complete change in attitude in how reporting rape cases will be handled in the criminal justice system,” said Brenden Kelly, St. Clair County state’s attorney. “It will be important to victims to help them begin the healing process.”

To retell any story of abuse takes courage, but for victims to be completely engaged in the prosecution process is another feat in itself. Law enforcement officers and first responders are typically the first people to interact with victims, playing a key role in whether or not victims stay engaged throughout the prosecution process.

“Everyone involved in the criminal justice system has a role in making this issue better,” said Anita Alvarez, Cook County state’s attorney. “One of the things this law focuses on is establishing a formal policy on how to draft reports on incidents.”

The 15-year-old girl from Harvey who was raped in 2007 told her story to the Robbins police department, but she was met with doubt by law enforcement because she smiled throughout the interview process. In order for the police to believe the girl’s story, the grandmother had to disclose to the officers that the girl had a disability. In 2015, the girl’s family was notified that 27-year-old Javariee Reed had been charged with sexually assaulting the teen.

The bill would require law enforcement to complete written reports of every sexual assault complaint, regardless of who is reporting the crime and where it occurred.

According to a 2012 study titled The Justice Gap for Sexual Assault Cases, for every 100 incidents of rape, an estimated 5 to 20 cases are reported to police, and only about 0.2 to 2.8 out of 100 result in an incarceration.

“Once victims know that law enforcement is focused on training that provides a supportive system, more community members will be willing to report other incidents,” said Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Contact Brittany Hilderbrand at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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