SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — New privacy protections for survivors of sexual violence inched a step closer to becoming law in Illinois on Tuesday.
Last fall, an investigation by CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards discovered thousands of child sex crime victims’ personal information – which should have been private CBS 2 producers not only discovered the sensitive details while reviewing records for a related investigation into sexual assault in Chicago. Clerk’s Office staff also handed producers copies the records without checking the files.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Illinois: Average Infection Rate Falls To Lowest Point Since Late March; Vaccinations Still Lagging From April Peak
When told about the issue, then-Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown — the person tasked with maintaining court documents — resisted taking action for weeks until State’s Attorney Kim Foxx threatened to sue. Brown’s office later told CBS 2 they would review the records and restrict access to the private information.
Months later, CBS 2 checked again, and found many records still hadn’t been fixed.
After notifying Brown’s successor, newly elected Clerk Iris Martinez, CBS 2 learned the problem was far worse. As many as 10,000 cases that potentially contained victims’ information were visible in public computer terminals.
“When I was told there was thousands, tens of thousands, I was shocked,” Martinez said.READ MORE: Illinois Launches 'Time For Me To Drive' Tourism Campaign As State Prepares To Fully Reopen Next Month
Martinez, a state senator for 20 years, drew on her connections in the Illinois State Senate. On Tuesday, a bill sponsored by state Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Hillside) passed unanimously at a committee hearing.
It will need to head to a floor vote before being signed into law.
Martinez said the bill does not restrict access to public information, but provides appropriate protections to prevent violations of victims’ privacy.
Lightford said victims “experienced intense trauma and it’s absolutely their right to determine who they share their stories with.”
State Senate Criminal Law Committee Chair John Connor (D-Crest Hill), himself a former prosecutor, expressed his outrage at the fact that this was possible in the first place and applauded Lightford for introducing this legislation.MORE NEWS: Chicago Bears Single-Game Tickets Go On Sale Wednesday Night
Martinez thanked CBS 2 several times for uncovering this problem.