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Illinois Proposes New Gender Violence Act.

Each year more women are injured by domestic violence than are killed by automobile and cancer deaths combined, according to the American Bar Association's Commission on Domestic Violence. With passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Congress for the first time adopted comprehensive protections for victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence.

Programs under the act have provided help to prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse and have expanded victim services and law enforcement resources.

A major component of VAWA was the section that allowed victims of sexual assault or gender-based crimes (violent acts against women, gays or lesbians) to sue in federal court for monetary damages. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled the act unconstitutional, citing in the decision an unwarranted intrusion into state authority to regulate civil and criminal matters.

Illinois responded by introducing the Gender Violence Act, a state initiative that would allow civil lawsuits to be filed, in addition to existing criminal statutes, against perpetrators of sexual or gender-based crimes. The proposal grants the right to sue not only to women, but also to victims of crimes based on sexual orientation.

The Illinois act, unlike the federal law, would allow victims to sue groups, institutions or corporations that may be responsible for an assault. Civil statutes have always allowed attack victims to sue, but the intent of the Illinois law is to grant specific relief to victims of sexual or gender-based assaults.

The proposed Illinois law is modeled on the VAWA that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. If enacted, HB 4407 would make Illinois the first state in the country to grant civil damages for these crimes. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Sara Feigenholtz and Rosemary Mulligan and Senator Lisa Madigan.

Congress recently reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act for another five years. The new version expands programs under the act and adds new provisions to fund civil legal representation for victims of domestic violence. Significant provisions in the act offer grants to coordinate victim advocates with law enforcement, support shelters, improve enforcement of protective orders across state lines and provide broader definitions regarding date rape and cyberstalking.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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