Yesterday, RedEye ran a cover story about our community’s response to sexual assault. The reporter touched on issues victims face when they come forward to report to local law enforcement. Every day, our attorneys at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Assault are working with survivors who are seeking to hold perpetrators of rape accountable. Our legal program—the Sexual Assault Justice Project—offers free legal representation to sexual assault survivors as they navigate the criminal justice system or seek remedies against perpetrators in the civil court. We wanted to weigh in about a few things:
Most rapes are not reported, and it takes a lot of courage to come forward and report a rape. The giant numeral 3 on the RedEye cover—the number of sexual assaults reported in Chicago on any given day—does not reflect the true reality of sexual assault in Chicago. Only between 16% and 19% of sexual assaults are ever reported to police. The reporter seems intent upon pointing out that some cases don’t move forward because victims “don’t want to be reminded” of the crime, and “a victim decides not to participate in the investigation.” What she doesn’t mention are the specific, horrifying things that often happen to survivors who do come forward.
The truth is that our culture does not believe rape victims, and our criminal justice system too often reflects that—not just here in Chicago but throughout the country. Survivors who do come forward are often doubted, ignored and re-traumatized. (Just read this recent article in The Daily Beast to learn how social media contributes to the problem.) The reporter seems intent on framing these barriers as being all about the victim. Instead, we’d like to talk more about how the system should be reformed. According to Kaethe Morris Hoffer, CAASE’s legal director, “Most of our clients desperately want to support the investigation and prosecution of rape. The flaw is not with survivors’ willingness to cooperate, but with the system’s ability to believe survivors and stop rape.”
This is about public safety and holding those who commit rape accountable. The reporter leaves out that side of the story—the perpetrators who are getting away with rape. Local law enforcement is making strides in creating a better response to sexual assault—training prosecutors and police about the realities of trauma so they can better work with survivors. But there is much more to be done.
CAASE strongly supports transparency in data. Using data to tell a story is a hot topic in journalism right now and rightly so. The map in RedEye shows that sexual assault is being reported in every corner of our city. Better data collection and transparency are important tools for advocates who are working to identify systemic issues facing survivors of sexual assault. CAASE participates in a sexual assault task force with allies mentioned in the story, and we are thrilled to see a rallying of support from local leaders like Alderman Scott Waguespack.