EDWARDSVILLE — Victims of campus sex assaults in Illinois would have confidential university advisers to help guide them through the legal and medical systems under a legislative proposal that has passed the state House.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan spoke Monday in support of The Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act at a conference on sex assault prevention at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She said the victim advocates could also be university employees, or work for outside organizations such as rape crisis centers, but their allegiances would be to the individual, not the institution.
“You want to make sure that the person who comes forward has somebody they can rely on,” said Madigan, who has held similar campus summits in Chicago and Normal. “It has to be somebody who is responsive to that victim as opposed to responsive to the university.”
The federal law dealing with gender discrimination in education, known as Title IX, already requires colleges and universities to follow certain guidelines for reporting and investigating possible sex assaults. Colleges and universities are also required to report campus crimes to the federal government under a 1990 law known as the Clery Act.
But Madigan called those standards “scattered” and “ineffective” while she advocated for additional state protections. Nearly 100 campuses nationwide face Title IX investigations, according to the federal government and media reports, including the University of Chicago and Knox College in Galesburg.
The proposed bill, which passed the House 113-2 and is now under consideration in the state Senate, also would require Illinois colleges and universities to bolster existing efforts by adopting “comprehensive policies concerning sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.” Schools also would need to enhance employee training and student awareness and provide additional resources to sex assault victims, including making it easier for them to change class schedules or housing assignments to minimize further exposure to their assailants.
Last week, Vice President Joe Biden spoke about campus sex assault prevention at the University of Illinois, imploring male students in particular to “Show courage. Be the man you were raised to be.” According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Justice Department, only about 20 percent of campus sexual assaults are reported.
Rape survivor Julia Dixon described being attacked in her University of Akron dormitory during her first week of school to an Edwardsville audience of university officials, police, prosecutors and mental health counselors. While she eventually graduated and saw her attacker plead guilty in court, she also endured hair and weight loss, plummeting grades that led to the loss of a scholarship and insensitive university officials who challenged her account of the crime, she said.
“When I was asleep, I didn’t have to think about anything,” she said. “That was the only place I could escape.”