State bill proposes sexual assault policies for universities

Stephanie Markham, Editor-in-Chief

Illinois legislators are considering a bill that would require universities to deal with sexual assault cases by adopting a “comprehensive policy” consistent with existing state and federal law.

House Bill 821, sponsored by Rep. Michelle Mussman, passed the House 113 – 2 in late April, passed the Senate unanimously on Thursday and is currently back in the House with an amendment from the Senate.

If approved, HB 821 would create the Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act.

According to the act, Illinois institutions of higher education would have to implement a comprehensive policy to address student allegations of sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

This includes notifying survivors of their rights and providing them with a confidential adviser.

The bill also would amend the Campus Security Act of 2008 to require more types of institutions to create taskforces and amend the Board of Higher Education Act to require intimidation and harassment reports be sent out annually rather than monthly.

Rep. Reggie Phillips, who represents the 110th district containing Eastern, was one of two Representatives who voted against the bill.

He said he has since changed his vote because of receiving so many phone calls about the issue, though he still does not believe the bill would accomplish anything.

“It doesn’t empower the police department do anything else other than what they currently do,” he said. “Is it going to add some different fines? No. Is it going to create a taskforce of policemen or policewomen that actually are professionally trained for investigating sexual crimes? No. Is it going to fast track sexual harassment or sexual crimes? No.”

He said he believes the sheriffs in his district as well as University Police Chief Adam Due already take allegations seriously.

“The bill basically is saying we expect you to do your job,” Phillips said. “I think if you have problems it may be in your larger cities, but you certainly don’t have it in my neck of the woods.”

Erin Walters, the director of Sexual Assault Counseling and Information Services, said while Eastern follows existing laws that set such provisions, other universities may benefit from having more specific language to clarify the procedures.

She said Lindsay Wilson of the counseling center serves as a confidential adviser for survivors, and Eastern’s Sexual Violence Prevention Team, formerly known as the Sexual Assault Taskforce, meets monthly despite only being required to meet twice per year.

Walters said she has seen collaboration and dialogue among the university, law enforcement and SACIS improve within the past year and a half, and the Sexual Violence Prevention Team has been working on a regular basis to improve the process for survivors.

“Eastern has had a taskforce in place for a long time; they’ve been following the language of the initial bill,” she said. “Voting for this doesn’t imply that Eastern is not doing it. I think the implications are clarification in the language is always beneficial, especially when it can streamline the process for a survivor.”

Phillips said he voted against the bill because he did not believe it represented the needs of his district, and he wanted to avoid unfunded mandates from the state.

“We have already got a sound procedure in place,” Phillips said. “The issue is probably more of reporting the crime to begin with, and I don’t know how you move that; that’s not my expertise, but certainly this isn’t going to.”

Attorney General Lisa Madigan has stated her support for the bill, however, and has held summits to discuss the legislation at the University of Chicago, Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Madigan’s press secretary Annie Thompson said Madigan is a longtime advocate for women’s safety, especially as the first female attorney general in Illinois.

“This is an issue her office has been working on for several years, so this bill is a natural next step,” Thompson said. “Campus sexual assault has increasingly become a problem with 1 in 5 women being victims of rape or attempted rape while at school.”

Dan Nadler, the vice president for student affairs, was not available for an interview about how the bill might affect Eastern’s policies.


Stephanie Markham can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].