New Law Aims To Reduce Sexual Assaults On College Campuses

CHICAGO (CBS) — A new law in Illinois designed to curb the numbers of sexual assaults on college campuses — and to hold schools to a higher standard — has gone into effect as college students are heading back to class for the fall.

“More than 90% sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault,” said Sarah Layden, director of advocacy for Chicago-based non-profit Rape Victim Advocates.

Layden said that’s because many fear not being believed, or don’t think their school will help them.

Studies show that one in five undergraduate women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape. Yet, a 2014 U.S. Senate survey of 440 four year higher education institutions found that more than 40% of the schools had not conducted a single investigation into allegations of sexual assault.

“This is why I worked with student survivors, Illinois colleges and Universities, advocates and lawmakers to develop a bill that would ensure that all institutions of higher learning provide proper prevention and real response to sexual assault,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

The Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act is designed to protect survivors of sexual assault and strengthen their rights.

“Under the new law, schools must give students the option to report incidents anonymously, confidentially and electronically. To ensure students receive relevant and practical information after an assault, schools must provide survivors with a clear, written explanation of their rights and options. Additionally, survivors must have access with a confidential advisor who will privately help them and consider their next steps,” said Madigan.

The law also requires that schools annually report information and data to the Attorney General’s office regarding their policies, training, prevention programs, incidents, reports and complaint resolution outcomes.

“This law will help us move toward the goal of preventing sexual assault on campus, and properly addressing it when it occurs; and it will ensure that wherever you go to school in Illinois, you will have options and you will have rights if you are sexually assaulted,”

Advocates also called for a change in culture.

“While we talk to women about how to keep ourselves safe, we also need to have a conversation about just don’t rape, so when it happens know that we see you, we hear you, and we believe you,” said state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields)

Annie Clark, executive director of End Rape on Campus, and a sexual assault survivor herself, said if college is the first time students are learning about the effects of sexual assault, it’s too late.

“We also must recognize that in addition to amazing legislation, we do need that culture change,” she said.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) said changing state laws regarding sexual assaults on college campuses is the easy part; the hard part is changing attitudes about rape.

“The days of just saying boys will be boys are over. Casually accepting sexual assault is an unfortunate byproduct of some sort of booze filled campus culture is not acceptable in the state of Illinois and it will never be again,” Cunningham said.

The Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act took effect Aug. 1.

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