A faster response to reports of sexual assault and more sensitive treatment of victims are the goals of new Illinois guidelines for law-enforcement agencies issued this month.
It follows the state's Sexual Assault Incident Procedure Act, which requires specialized training and new polices to improve law enforcement to these incidents.
Agencies must have written policies consistent with the guidelines in effect by Jan 1.
Key requirements for law enforcement entities in Madigan's guidelines include:
- Treat sexual abuse and assault as criminal conduct
- Respond to calls of this nature without unnecessary delays
- Take all reasonable steps to prevent further re-traumatization of sexual assault victims
- Make sure referrals to follow-up services are provided to victims and witnesses
The Act requires policies to be "evidence-based" and "trauma-informed."
Ed Wojcicki, executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said the call for change results from inconsistent handling of sexual assault cases by law enforcement. He said that included the protocol for rape kits and how they were tracked.
Wojcicki said more training will help officials support survivors better.
“First responders will have a better sense of what to ask and how to ask it, and how to deal as compassionately as possible with someone who reports a sexual assault," he said.
Wojcicki said he hopes the changes will help victims come forward more often.
“The way it was, you could only report it in the jurisdiction where it took place," he said. "Now, you can go report it – wherever you report it, they have to take the report and refer it to the appropriate jurisdiction.”
Other changes stemming from the Sexual Assault Incident Procedure Act include law enforcement being required to complete written reports on every sexual assault complaint; survivors can request updates of the testing of their sexual assault evidence by the state crime lab.
Also, the time frame for survivors to consent to testing of sexual assault forensic evidence is extended to five years after the incident; underage survivors have five years from their 18th birthday to give consent to the testing.
Wojcicki said a plan still is being developed to evaluate the new policies and training.