New law requires Illinois colleges and universities to take action against campus sex assaults

CHICAGO -- Attorney General Lisa Madigan held a press conference today on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, focusing on a new state law requiring institutions of higher education to take action to prevent and respond to sexual violence complaints.

The new law, which took effect August 1, aims to ensure that Illinois colleges and universities have a uniform and thorough response plan when it comes to complaints of sexual violence.

"We also must understand that our first response to a survivor is critical," Madigan told reporters today. "And it often determines whether a student will stay in school, whether they will move along the road to recovery, and whether they will seek justice."

Attorney General Madigan outlined key elements of the new Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act. Madigan initiated this effort in 2015 after convening campus summits across the state focusing on the epidemic of sexual violence in higher education.

Studies show that one in five undergraduate women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape, a staggering statistic if taken into account the fact that these crimes tend to be underreported, according to experts.

Along with the University of Illinois at Chicago Chancellor, the campus advocacy network and legislators gathered today on the UIC campus, Annie Clark, the co-founder of an organization known as End Rape on Campus, spoke at the press conference. Clark herself is a survivor of sexual violence.

"If college is the first time students are hearing about sexual assault, it is way too late," Clark said. "We must start talking about this in our families, in our communities, in our places of worship and in our schools."

The new law ensures confidential advisers for victims, a clear and short written explanation of the victim's rights, amnesty provisions to encourage students to report without fear -- for example, that they will be punished for underage drinking or other infractions that may have occurred -- and survivor centered training for students and staff, among other provisions.

The goal is to make sure there is a system in place to help victims at their most difficult moment.