Sexual violence has largely been decriminalized in the United States through disbelief of victims, apathy on the part of law enforcement officers, and inaction on the part of institutions. Indeed, these mechanisms are so effective at burying the problem that most people are not aware of the extent of unprosecuted sexual violence, the woefully deficient law enforcement response, and the need for sweeping reform. The Article proceeds in two parts. Part I maps the extent of this problem and argues that the weakest link in the societal response to sexual assault lies at the juncture between victim and law enforcement. In particular, the law enforcement failure to effectively investigate sexual assault is the most substantial obstacle victims currently face. Part I also analyzes the relationship between the crisis indicators set out in the Article and shows how the lack of preparedness of law enforcement to respond effectively to sexual violence results in a cascade of related negative consequences which affect both victims and public safety. Part II takes up the question of how to respond effectively to sexual violence. It notes that positive change is catching on in some jurisdictions and is dramatically improving the law enforcement response to sexual assault, but not all victims benefit because these measures are discretionary. The Article makes the case for legislative reform that would mandate sexual assault investigation best practices across all jurisdictions. It argues that the state of Illinois, where such reforms have already been institutionalized, can serve as a model for other jurisdictions. The Article concludes by arguing that the mandatory adoption of best practices is necessary in order to eliminate the grave deviations from best practice that exist in many jurisdictions.
Illinois, Sexual assault, Law enforcement, Police, Decriminalization, Legislative reform, Public safety
Date of Authorship for this Version
Lisa Avalos, Reversing the Decriminalization of Sexual Violence, 21 NEV. L.J. 1 (2020).