BLOOMINGTON — Representatives of the YWCA's Stepping Stones program and Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities will meet next week to work on creating a broad-based community coalition to address the issue of sexual assault.
The coalition, whose name has not been selected, will be patterned after the Bloomington-Normal Community Campus Committee that works to reduce high-risk drinking and related consequences among students in the Twin Cities.
The decision to create the sexual assault coalition was an outgrowth of a morning-long Sexual Assault Prevention Summit on Thursday at IWU's Memorial Center.
About 75 people attended the summit, which included separate sessions on universities, hospitals/advocates and law enforcement/the judicial system.
In discussions following those sessions, participants agreed that creation of a coalition, to continue the collaborative work already being done, should take priority as the next step.
One reason for the summit was the increased attention on campus sexual assaults from the federal government. This includes a White House task force report issued last year and laws, including the Title IX equal education opportunity act, which impose various reporting requirements and responsibilities.
“We live and work in a community where collaboration is a community strength,” said Karla Carney-Hall, IWU vice president of student affairs, as she opened the summit.
Many of the existing partnerships were outlined during the breakout sessions. They include a task force that reviews criminal cases before they are filed, which has representatives from police agencies, the state's attorney's office and Stepping Stones.
The Bloomington-based Stepping Stones program is one of 29 rape crisis centers in Illinois. It provides 24-hour assistance to sexual assault victims and their families.
Among points emphasized by panel members was that a decision not to prosecute does not necessarily mean police and prosecutors don't believe the person reporting the assault. Rather, it's a matter of having insufficient evidence with which to get a conviction.
“The TV shows like 'CSI' have ruined the jury pool,” Bloomington police Detective Jim Heinlen said, because they have created an expectation that there always will be DNA evidence.
Sharing Heinlen's frustration, Lt. Paul Smith of the Normal Police Department said, “The are some days you walk out and say, 'I should have got a job in another field.' You feel so helpless.”
In addition to the two universities, representatives of Heartland Community College and the Normal campus of Lincoln College also participated in the summit along with the state's attorney's office, police and hospital representatives.
Kyle Ciani, an associate professor of history at ISU who works with the student group FLAME (Feminist Led Activist Movement to Empower), said the summit was a good opportunity to share information and encourage more conversation about sexual assault prevention.