Advocates say Cicero needs reform to tackle sexual harm • MuckRock

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by MuckRock’s reporting partner Cicero Independiente, a bilingual non-profit newsroom serving the community in Cicero, Illinois. The article is also available in Spanish. Donate to Cicero Independiente here. For additional resources on sexual assault reporting, please see MuckRock’s Counting the Uncounted project.

The article includes a report on an incident of sexual assault against two minors. This story also details how sex crimes are documented by police and what is needed to deal with this health crisis. This content can be difficult to read. At the end of this article, you will find links to helplines, information about rape crisis centers, and resources.

In 2002, a kindergarten teacher at Cicero’s Woodbine school sexually assaulted two five-year-old girls. The incidents were only reported to authorities when one of the girls was in elementary school and the other in high school. Now in their early 20s, the two are still awaiting trial to weigh the charges against their former teacher, who has been on remand for eight years in the Cook County Jail.

While sex crimes overall are grossly underreported and data is not readily available, in Cicero some of the reasons may be region-specific, according to advocacy experts. Non-English speakers face language barriers, people are worried if they come forward it will not lead to arrests and even when lawyers help the experience can be fraught with pitfalls and delays in the process. agent communication.

In Cicero, city officials are particularly in need of publishing correct statistics, creating more counseling centers for assaulted people, and providing greater transparency on policies used to document sex crimes in order to later enforce laws. against sexual assault, advocates say.

“The survivors feel very frustrated by the [investigative] process, ”says Maritza Reyes, director of Mujeres Latinas en Acción, an organization that provides social services to women, including those who report assault. Over the past year, the group has provided counseling and therapy to 22 people in the Cicero zip code. Mujeres Latinas also helps report sexual assault to the police, including advice on how to approach law enforcement. “It’s a very slow process,” Reyes admits. “What we are able to do in our role as an advocate is help communicate with a sex crimes detective if one has been appointed. We often try to reach out [to authorities] because what we hear from a lot of survivors is that they don’t know what’s going on with the case.

Frequently, she notes, clients seek advice and support, so therapy and counseling are vital. “It’s about helping them deal with their trauma, regardless of the outcome of the legal process. There are so many things that are beyond our control. You can take the appropriate steps in the criminal justice system without actually getting the result you want. ”

Non-nationals who report sex crimes can apply for a nonimmigrant U visa to avoid deportation while the case is pending. But police departments can create roadblocks by not quickly processing required visa documents that would verify the person’s cooperation in pursuing the case. In 2019, Illinois enacted the Voices of Immigrant Communities Empowering Survivors (VOICES) Act that requires certification officers to sign required certifications within 90 days, but the law does not impose penalties for non-compliance. .

During this time, the alleged perpetrators can remain in prison, before the trial, for long periods. This is the case of Roberto Aguilar, who was arrested for the abuses that took place in Woodbine. Civil lawyer Katherine Cardenas, who represents the accusers, notes that even after a suspect is arrested, the trial can take years.

The system that is supposed to protect people often does not meet their needs, observes Madeleine Behr, policy manager of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE).

By studying the actions of the Chicago Police Department, CAASE found that 80 to 90 percent of reports of sexual violence over the past ten years had not resulted in an arrest. And using data from a 2019 special report from the U.S. Department of Justice, the nationwide Rape, Abuse & Incest Network found that out of 1,000 sexual assaults, 975 assailants will come out free.

More accurate and publicly available numbers could encourage more people who have been assaulted to come forward, but personal factors can cause conflicting feelings about reporting these crimes. “A lot of survivors are unwilling to go down the path of the criminal justice system, not only out of fear of the police, but also because that is not the kind of justice and accountability they are looking for,” says Behr. “Many survivors know the person who harmed them – it can be a family member, it can be an acquaintance. They might not want that person incarcerated.

To address such concerns, cities should have rape victim support centers and hotlines that people can access when needed, advocates say. Chicago has several rape relief centers, but they are staffed and funded by nonprofit organizations. Cicero does not have a rape hotline. Other major cities – Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and San Francisco – fund their rape hotlines and crisis centers.

Behr of CAASE said Chicago leaders should reconsider funding for these centers and other community services, to ensure accountability and justice for those who have been assaulted. CAASE outlined a series of measures to improve the situation on the law enforcement side, including improving the city’s public data portal and asking Chicago Police to submit their data to the FBI through the national system. report of incidents (NIBRS), in order to better understand the needs of the community.

Statistics released by the Cook County State Attorney’s Office show that in Cicero there have been 1,398 charges of sex crimes, of which only 12% have resulted in convictions, in the past ten years. The charges range from rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse to possession of child pornography. Cicero’s sexual assaults reported by law enforcement to the FBI, while comparable to the 2019 national average of 44 per 100,000 population, are lower than the number of sex crimes reported by the state of Illinois. A report prepared by the United Nations shows that during the pandemic, reports of sexual assault to authorities declined, but calls to sexual assault hotlines increased, especially in places with strict closures.

Cicero city officials declined to answer questions about local rape statistics or why the city does not have an open crime data portal to promote transparency on the issue. Spokesman Ray Hanania suggested that Cicero Independiente file a FOIA request for this information, although the data is readily available in other cities. Inquiries about rape statistics sent to Cicero’s police superintendent Jerry Chlada also went unanswered.

Cicero’s recent story includes reports and allegations of sexual harassment against city employees and elected officials. At least three people who said city officials sexually harassed them have received multi-million dollar settlements in recent years. Charges have been brought against police chiefs, city employees and city president Larry Dominick.

In one case, in 2011, a former director of the Cicero animal shelter was fired after accusing Dominick of sexual harassment; she received a settlement of $ 500,000. And in 2013, the city resolved a sexual harassment charge brought by a former police officer with a $ 675,000 settlement against Dominick. Dominick denied the charges.


Community resources on Cicero’s sexual assault

** Mujeres Latinas en Acció ** n

Mujeres Latinas en Acción (Mujeres), a bilingual / bicultural agency, empowers Latinas by providing them with services that reflect their values ​​and culture and advocating for issues that make a difference in their lives.

Mujeres offers services that support all programs, which include general hospitality, volunteer training and childcare. Child care is available to clients while they are receiving services.

24 Hour Chicago Rape Crisis Line: 888-293-2080

Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE)

The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) envisions a community free from all forms of sexual exploitation and seeks to achieve this by attacking the culture, institutions and individuals who commit, benefit from, or support sexual violence. Their work includes prevention, policy reform, community engagement, and legal services.

To learn more about their free legal services or to schedule a consultation, call the Legal Help Line at 773-244-2230, ext. 205 or send an email to [email protected]

Community health pillars

Pillars Community Health is a not-for-profit provider of health and social services, including medical and dental, mental health and addiction services, as well as domestic and sexual violence services. Services are provided free of charge and are available in English, Spanish and Arabic.

A 24 hour confidential sexual assault hotline, 708-482-9600


Header illustration by Diana C. Pietrzyk.

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