Better reporting and prosecuting of sexual assaults may begin with law enforcement treating victims more compassionately. Speaking at the Midwestern meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General last week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said a tendency to blame victims of sexual violence and rape seems to be the root cause of why so few of those crimes are ever reported. Coupled with low conviction rates and a nationwide backlog of untested rape kit evidence, Madigan said “epidemic rates” of sexual assault aren’t likely to improve unless attitudes change. “Survivors do not believe that they will be taken seriously and they do not want to be re-traumatized by police and prosecutors,” Madigan said.
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Part of Madigan’s solution is better training for 911 operators, police officers, and nurses on how to interact with potential victims of sexual violence. If hostile behavior discourages victims from reporting the crimes, Madigan said that only helps the criminal who may go on to rape or assault someone else. “We end up with a country, with a society, where so many of us are simply walking wounded,” Madigan said. Madigan says as few as 5 percent of survivors of sexual assault report the crime to police, and as little of 0.2 percent of assaults ever result in a conviction. With the first-hand stories from victims of rape and the sort of comments aimed towards them through anonymous internet users, Madigan feels “it’s clear there’s an enormous amount of work to do” to change how society treats these crimes.