SPRINGFIELD — In a nation-leading effort to protect survivors of military sexual violence and hold perpetrators accountable, the Illinois National Guard worked closely with state Senate Assistant Majority Leader Tony Munoz (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora) to introduce legislation that will strengthen the state's response to military sexual violence.
SB 257 will extend the authority of military protection orders beyond military locations, ensuring survivors receive their full protection no matter where they are and that perpetrators can be held accountable for violations. The legislation also provides survivors with additional employment protections as they recover.
"Here in Illinois, we stand with survivors and are committed to ensuring our laws provide justice," said Gov. JB Pritzker. "With this bill, our state will lead the nation in keeping survivors of military sexual assault safe and ensuring they receive compassion and support as they recover. I applaud Leader Munoz and Representative Kifowit for putting this legislation forward and I urge the General Assembly to take it up as soon as possible."
Military protection orders are issued by military tribunals to protect survivors of military sexual or domestic violence from the alleged perpetrator of that violence by restricting the alleged perpetrator's contact with the survivor. Similar to a civilian protection order, a violation of the order could result in criminal charges and is enforceable by military law enforcement. However, a military protection order's authority ends at the gate of a military installation and does not apply to military reservists or National Guard members who are not on federal military orders.
Senate Bill 257 will allow military legal authorities to file military protection orders with Illinois courts and will, under state law, give those orders the same authority as a civilian protection order issued by a circuit court within Illinois. The language will also give local and state police the authority to enforce the military protection order within Illinois.
"As a U.S. Army veteran, I'm proud to introduce legislation that will help the military fight sexual and domestic violence within its ranks and protect its Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors who serve within Illinois," said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Tony Munoz (D-Chicago). "This legislation will also help facilitate communication between the military and civilian law enforcement and help both protect our service members."
"I am a proud U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and as a woman who has served, I am also acutely aware of the struggles the military has faced addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment within its ranks," said State Representative Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora). "This legislation gives both the military and the state another tool to combat this problem. It is an honor to sponsor this legislation in the House."
"I believe this legislation will become a national model for other states to adopt," said Major General Neely. "I'm proud to work with the Governor and our State Legislature to introduce legislation that will help us address sexual assault and sexual harassment within the U.S. military and the Illinois National Guard and more effectively protect our service members."
The legislation also extends Victims' Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) protections to victims of military sexual violence.
Under VESSA, employees who are victims of violence or who have family or household members who are victims of violence to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per any 12-month period to seek medical help, legal assistance, counseling, safety planning, and other assistance. The amendment also prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are victims of violence or who have family or household members who are victims of violence.
The proposed change to state law was identified by the Governor's Office and a working group within the Illinois National Guard chaired by Major General Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard.
The proposed law change was brought to the working group by Colonel Sarah Smith, the Staff Judge Advocate of the Illinois Army National Guard and a Madison County Circuit Court Judge in her civilian life. Smith worked with the Governor's Office and legislators on the language of the proposed changes.
"The military has a lot of work to do in the prevention of and response to military sexual assault, but I am truly encouraged by the progress being made here in Illinois and within the Illinois National Guard," said Colonel Smith.
The Illinois Attorney General's office administers Illinois' Crime Victims Compensation Program, which allows survivors of violent crimes and their families to seek reimbursement for expenses related to a violent crime, such as lost wages or medical bills. These benefits are available to survivors, including military sexual assault survivors, whose insurance does not cover therapy sessions or who must take off work to seek treatment for the physical or mental trauma resulting from their assault. Information about the Crime Victims Compensation Program is available on the Attorney General's website.
Addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment within the Illinois National Guard has been a top priority for Major General Neely since he was appointed by Governor Pritzker in February 2019. He has enacted multiple internal changes within the Illinois National Guard and advocated for reforms at the national level including a recent change in the U.S. military that treats sexual harassment as a crime.
In addition to the working group, the Illinois National Guard has established a task force, led by Brigadier General Justin Osberg, the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General — Army of the Illinois National Guard and a corporate change agent in his civilian career.
The task force is focused on the problems of sexual assault and sexual harassment; racism and issues of diversity and inclusion; and service member suicide within the Illinois National Guard.