Campus Sexual Assault in Illinois: Progress, But Our Work is Not Done
College students and parents across Illinois recently received welcome news when House Bill 821, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s legislation to help colleges and universities prevent and address campus sexual assaults, became law in Illinois.
HB821, The Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act, sponsored by Rep. Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg) and Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields), goes into effect August 1, 2016, and will require Illinois colleges and universities to:
- Develop a clear, comprehensive campus sexual violence policy, including detailed incident reporting options and university response guidelines;
- Notify student survivors of their rights, including their right to confidentiality; of 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 of the availability of medical and counseling services;
- Provide a confidential advisor to survivors to help them understand their options for reporting the crime and seeking medical and legal assistance;
- Adopt a fair, balanced process for adjudicating allegations of sexual violence; and
- Offer training to students and campus employees to prevent sexual violence and improve awareness of and responsiveness to allegations of sexual violence.
There’s no doubt it’s worth celebrating this critical step forward in protecting Illinois’ college students. So many people—from different backgrounds and from both sides of the aisle—came together on this important initiative.
But we knew our work wouldn’t end here—and in just the last few weeks, we have seen clear evidence that we all have more to do on this issue. The ink was barely dry on the Governor’s signature when we learned of the ill-timed, ill-advised and disturbing messages flung from the balcony of the Sigma Nu fraternity at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Similarly troubling banners were spotted at off-campus housing at Ohio State University.
These offensive signs are another reminder that the often polarizing campus sexual assault debate is alive and well, and that the seriousness of sexual harassment and assault is still lost on some.
More importantly, they are a reminder that our work is not done.
The passage of HB821 is a critical victory here in Illinois. But we can’t ignore the signs—in this case, literal—that a larger problem persists. It is a problem that will take the continued, consistent and collective effort of many more advocates to stamp out.
We are making important strides in protecting college students from sexual assault and harassment. And we are confident that with the ongoing support of Chicago Says No More and organizations like it, we can ensure college campuses are the welcoming, enriching and safe places they are intended to be where an equal educational environment is a reality for all students.
Chief, Public Interest Division
Office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan