New Report Says Illinois Schools Need More Sexual Violence Response Guidelines

By Rachel Otwell

A new report says Illinois lacks comprehensive guidelines when it comes to dealing with sexual misconduct cases in elementary and high schools.

Wendy Pollack heads the Women’s Law and Policy Initiative of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. She authored the report, based on a series of interviews with students and service providers across the state.

Pollack says the lack of guidance leads too often to problems like school employees mishandling survivors’ confidentiality, and survivors being revictimized by having to explain the abuse repeatedly. Pollack says when situations are mishandled it can even lead to bullying, and some students interviewed dropped out of school as a result.

In the midst of the #MeToo movement, there are more conversations about the existence of problems resulting from sexual violence. But Pollack says not enough of those conversations involve young survivors.

“There’s a lot of challenges when it comes to children and youth. And so that’s why we have focused for so many years on elementary and secondary students because there’s never been much attention paid to that group,” says Pollack, who has worked on legislation and other policy initiatives related to this issue for several years.

Pollack says it’s especially urgent for the state and local districts to bolster their policies, as the Trump administration has been planning to change Title IX guidelines.

“The proposed regulations are not good, they really roll back some of the protections that the survivors have now. So, for example, schools wouldn’t be obligated to really do anything for students if the violence happened off campus,” she says.

Pollack says the experience Alisa Hill had as a student at a Chicago high school exemplifies the complexities of sexual harassment and assault in schools. Hill, now a Northern Illinois University student, says she was hit on by a teacher, who insisted she give him her personal cell phone number. She says she went to a school administrator after she learned several of her peers had similar experiences.

The teacher was quickly let go, but Hill says no one followed up with her or offered counseling. And she remained worried that the man would come after her since he knew where she was working.

“I really just want to know, where is he? And … can I, as a survivor, move on from this knowing that the proper decision was made to ensure that this person won’t ever do this destruction again,” says Hill. She says she’s worried he may have moved on to another school or situation where he can victimize others.

In the interview above, we hear more from Wendy Pollack about the findings of the report, titled, Ensuring Success in School, Supporting Survivors: Illinois Schools’ Responses to Elementary and Secondary School Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence.

You can read further student accounts and more about the findings and recommendations of the report, here.