CHICAGO (CBS) — A new law is in effect requiring advocates for sex assault victims in hospital emergency rooms, but not all hospitals are on board yet.
“I fought for my life to break free,” said Kelley Kitley.
Kitley was 21 and on her way home from her job at a Lake View bar when a man on the street suddenly and violently threw her to the ground and sexually assaulted her. Noise from a nearby garbage can off Southport and School finally scared him off, but her trauma was just beginning.
“The amount of damage that happened in those five minutes changed my life,” she said.
Kitley ended up at Advocate Illinois Masonic’s emergency department, taken by police. She said officers treated her coldly and a doctor treated her clinically, and then a rape victim advocate walked in.
“And just told me it was OK and that I was in a safe place,” she said.
Two decades later, at the beginning of this year, a state law went into effect requiring all hospital emergency rooms to partner with a rape crisis center to provide an advocate to any sexual assault victim requesting one.
Sarah Layden is the program and public policy director for Resilience, one such organization.
“I think it is incredibly important,” she said. “I think little by little we’re getting there, but there’s still hospitals in the City of Chicago that aren’t partnered.”
Those hospitals have less than a month to comply or they face a fine from the Illinois Department of Public Health. After letting its partnership lapse, Advocate Illinois Mason re-partnered with Resilience when the new law went into effect.
“We’ve seen about 10 patients so far that have been sexual assault victims,” said Anna Scaccia, the ER nursing director at Advocate Illinois Masonic. “And we’ve been able to partner with Resilience on their care.”
Advocates help serve as a buffer for victims, helping explain their legal and medical options and providing much-needed emotional support.
“The advocate’s role is really to walk them through all those options,” said Layden.
“They’re a layperson themselves, so they feel a little bit more comfortable, a little bit more safe,” said Scaccia.
“Having an advocate there makes all the difference in the world,” said Kitley.
An Illinois Attorney General’s Office spokesperson said letters went out to non-compliant hospitals at the beginning of April, letting them know June 1 is the deadline to partner with a crisis center or face a fine.
Victims can reach out to Resilience online or call the rape crisis hotline at 888-293-2080.