Article  |  Victims

An examination of Illinois sexual violence victims

 |   | 

InfoNet is a web-based data collection and reporting system used by rape crisis centers across Illinois. Developed by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority in collaboration with the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) and other agencies, InfoNet is used by ICASA’s network of 33 rape crisis centers. The system tracks victim characteristics and services provided using unique identifiers and offers data to inform local and statewide policy and planning.

Overview

More than 37,000 victims of sexual violence received services from an ICASA rape crisis center between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2015 (state fiscal years 2011 through 2015). This is a unique count of people served during the full five years, without duplicating those served over multiple years.1 When the years were examined separately, data showed an average of 10,200 victims were served annually.2 Adults comprised about 60 percent of these victims, and 40 percent were children age 17 years or younger. Although there was a small decrease in the annual number of victims served during the period (6 percent), a slight increase occurred during the most recent year (FY15) (Figure 1).3

In addition to serving victims, rape crisis centers responded to more than 42,000 requests from anonymous individuals for crisis intervention service during the five-year period, averaging nearly 8,500 per year. The number of crisis intervention contacts increased by 15 percent during the period examined, with most of that increase occurring just last year (12 percent). Nearly 60 percent of these responses were to victims. The other responses were to significant others concerned about their loved ones who had experienced sexual violence.

While InfoNet can provide insight about prevalence of sexual violence in Illinois, it is not the only available indicator. Efforts to gauge the extent of any phenomenon are more comprehensive when multiple sources are examined, so trends were also reviewed using two other sources of sexual violence data: rape offenses reported to law enforcement and cases of child sexual abuse reported to the state’s child protective service authorities.

Illinois State Police’s (ISP) Uniform Crime Reporting (I-UCR) program showed 4,089 rape offenses were reported to law enforcement agencies statewide in calendar year 2014. This represents a 10 percent decrease over the last five years, but a slight increase (3 percent) in the last year. This increase may have been influenced by an expanded definition of rape that became effective in 2014.4

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) collects data on reported cases of child sexual abuse. Although this information includes only victimizations against children, it is another helpful indicator of sexual violence statewide. The five-year trend in reported child sexual abuse was similar to that of rapes reported to police with a 10 percent decrease. Unlike the pattern noted in reported rapes, child sexual abuse reports declined 9 percent in the most recent year (Figure 2).

* DCFS reports by state fiscal year; ISP reports by calendar year.

Five-year trends from all three indicators analyzed (victims served by rape crisis centers, rapes reported to police, and reports of child sexual abuse to DCFS) were similar in that all showed small declines of 10 percent or less, but variations were noted for the most recent year shown. Reported rapes and victims who received services from the rape crisis centers did not change substantially, while reports of child sexual abuse declined. Additionally, annual numbers of victims served by rape crisis centers exceeded yearly totals of both reported rapes and child sexual abuse reports. Although some victims of sexual violence may be represented in more than one of these sources, crisis centers serve several victims who decide not to report their experience(s) to any state or local authority.

Because InfoNet data collected by rape crisis centers include demographic and other intake information for each victim who received services, changes in their characteristics were examined over time in addition to how many were served. Some victim characteristics are available from reports of child sexual abuse to DCFS, but only for the most recent year and in a limited, aggregate format not comparable to InfoNet data. No victim characteristics are available from rapes reported to law enforcement.

Some victim characteristics did not change during the five-year period. The vast majority of those served were female (89 percent). One quarter were black. In 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau indicated 15 percent of Illinois residents were black, so black victims were somewhat overrepresented compared to their makeup in the general population (Table 1).

Table 1: Victims served by gender and race, FY11 to FY15

Percent of all victims (n=37,045)
GENDER %
Male 10.6%
Female 89.4%
RACE* (excludes ethnicity) %
American Indian or Alaska Native 1.3%
Asian 1.1%
Black/African American 25.4%
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 0.3%
White 74.5%
Multiracial (also counted in categories above) 2.7%
* Race sums to more than 100% because one person may be counted in multiple categories.

The makeup of offender relationships to victims who received services also remained similar over the five-year period. Offender relationship type was only collected for 55 percent of victims served, and hence should be interpreted with caution. Of those for whom this information was tracked, the majority were victimized by someone they knew (86 percent). The most common offender relationship type was friend/acquaintance, which includes neighbors, coworkers, and casual dating partners, comprising 38 percent of relationship types. Family members (excluding spouses, parents and their spouses or partners) made up one-fifth of relationships at 20 percent (Figure 3).

While victims’ gender, race and relationship to their offenders remained similar over the past five years, changes were seen in the types of violence for which victims received help, as well as their ethnicity and primary language, employment status and referral sources. There were also some changes noted among different age groups. These recent trends are described in more detail below.

Decrease in victims who experienced child sexual violence

The primary type of sexual violence experienced by each victim who received services from the rape crisis centers was collected using the following more specific categories:

  1. Adult sexual violence—An adult or teen receiving services due to experiencing rape or sexual abuse committed by another adult or peer;
  2. Adult survivor of incest or child sexual abuse—An adult receiving services due to experiencing rape or sexual abuse during childhood by anyone;
  3. Child sexual assault or abuse—A child or teen receiving services due to experiencing rape or other sexual violence by an adult or someone substantially older (younger child victimized by a teen would be included in this category, but teen on teen sexual violence is adult sexual violence); and
  4. Other sexual violence—Anyone receiving services due to experiencing sexual harassment or stalking.

The greatest changes were seen among those who were adult survivors of sexual violence as children (21-percent decrease) and victims of child sexual assault or abuse (11-percent decrease). Conversely but to a lesser degree, the number of victims who experienced adult sexual violence increased by 7 percent during the five years reviewed (Table 2).

Table 2: Victims served by type of violence experienced, FY11 and FY15*

Type Of violence Number of victims FY11 % of all victims FY11 Number of victims FY15 % of all victims FY15 % Change in number of victims FY11-FY15
Adult sexual violence 3,161 35.4% 3,378 40.3% 6.9%
Adult survivor of child sexual assault/abuse 1,638 18.3% 1,300 15.5% -20.6%
Child sexual assault or abuse 3,898 43.7% 3,489 41.6% -10.5%
Other sexual violence 230 2.6% 225 2.7% -2.2%
Totals 8,927 100% 8,392 100%
* Includes data for only those victims where the type of violence was known, or 94% of victims

Increase in Hispanic/Latino and non-English (Spanish) speaking victims

Hispanic/Latino victims who received services increased more than 20 percent between FY11 and FY15, with a 10-percent jump within the last year. Nearly 2,300, or one quarter of all victims served were Hispanic/Latino in FY15. Among Illinois’ general population, Hispanic/Latino residents comprised 17 percent in 2014 (U.S. Census Bureau), indicating that Hispanic/Latinos received services at a higher rate than the non-Hispanic/Latino population.

Coinciding with the increase in Hispanic/Latino victims was a rise in Spanish-speaking service needs among victims served. Although still a small portion of all victims (7 percent), the number of people who needed Spanish speaking services nearly doubled since FY11. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated 6 percent of Illinois’s Spanish speaking residents spoke English “less than very well” in 2013 (latest year available). In FY15, more than one in four Hispanic/Latino victims served by the centers needed services in Spanish (Table 3).

Table 3: Victims served by ethnicity and who needed Spanish-speaking services, FY11 and FY15*

Victim Ethnicity Number of victims FY11 % of all victims FY11 Number of victims FY15 % of all victims FY15 % Change in number of victims FY11-FY15
Hispanic/Latino Victims 1895 21.0% 2,291 25.5% 20.9%
Non-Hispanic/Latino Victims 7,123 79.0% 6,693 74.5% -6.0%
Totals 9,018 100% 8,984 100%
Victims who needed Spanish-speaking services 354 3.3% 650 6.5% 83.6%
Victims who did NOT need Spanish-speaking services 10,273 96.7% 9,357 93.5% -8.9%
Totals 10,627 100% 10,007 100%
* Ethnicity includes only those victims for whom ethnicity was known, or 87% of victims.

Decrease in younger victims

Rape crisis centers saw some fluctuation in the ages of victims served during the period examined. The largest change was noted among victims age 11 years or younger with a 12-percent decline. A small increase was seen in victims served age 50 years and older. While this oldest age group still comprised the smallest portion of victims overall in FY15, it grew by 10 percent and was the only age group that increased (Table 4).


Table 4: Victims served by age group, FY11 and FY15*

Victim age group Number of victims FY11 % of all victims FY11 Number of victims FY15 % of all victims FY15 % Change in number of victims FY11-FY15
0-11 1855 17.6% 1,632 16.4% -12.0%
12-19 3,075 29.1% 2,848 28.6% -7.4%
20-49 5,009 47.5% 4,792 48.2% -4.3%
50+ 612 5.8% 675 6.8% 10.3%
Totals 10,551 100% 9,947 100%
* Excludes 76 victims in FY11 and 60 victims in FY15 whose age was unknown

Increase in employed victims

Data indicating victims’ employment status should be interpreted carefully as this information was only known for 59 percent of victims served during the five-year period who were ages 22 years and older. Those employed either part- or full-time increased 12 percent during the period. Although unemployed victims comprised a slightly lesser portion of all victims served in FY15 compared to FY11, they amounted to just less than half (47 percent) of victims served (Table 5).

Table 5: Victims served by employment status, FY11 and FY15*

Victim employment status Number of victims FY11 % of all victims FY11 Number of victims FY15 % of all victims FY15 % Change in number of victims FY11-FY15
Full-time 949 33.6% 1,073 35.3% 13.1%
Part-time 478 16.9% 529 17.4% 10.7%
Unemployed 1,399 49.5% 1,438 47.3% 2.8%
Totals 2,826 100% 3,040 100%
*Includes data only for victims age 22 or older where employment status was known, or 59 percent of those age 22 or older

Increase in hospital and justice system referrals

Hospitals were the most common referral source among victims served at rape crisis centers between FY11 and FY15; hospital referrals increased 19 percent during that period. By FY15, hospital-referred victims comprised more than one-third of all those served. Law enforcement and state’s attorney referrals also increased 20 percent in the five years. Referrals from social service programs and child advocacy centers5 decreased by 19 percent (Table 6).


Table 6: Victims served by referral source, FY11 and FY15*

Victim referral source Number of victims FY11 % of all victims FY11 Number of victims FY15 % of all victims FY15 % Change in number of victims FY11-FY15
Hospitals 2,275 29.1% 2,696 34.3% 18.5%
Law enforcement 539 6.9% 665 8.5% 23.4%
State’s Attorneys 342 4.4% 391 5.0% 14.3%
Social service programs 903 11.6% 713 9.1% -21.0%
Child advocacy centers 605 7.7% 512 6.5% -15.4%
Other referral sources** 3,151 40.3% 2,876 36.6% -8.7%
Totals 2,826 100% 3,040 100%

* Includes data only for victims where referral source was known, or 76 percent of victims
** Other referral sources include 13 additional categories, none of which showed substantial change during the period.

Unknown data

Collecting information from victims during the intake process can be very challenging for rape crisis center staff. This is usually when victims tell their story, often for the first time. They are generally distraught, fearful and likely in crisis. Answering questions regarding demographics, income or employment status may seem completely irrelevant to a victim at this point. While at times it may be more appropriate to let some questions go unasked, this creates gaps with information entered into InfoNet. Although a victim’s comfort should be priority, incomplete data hampers the ability to identify service gaps and underserved populations and inform strategic planning. Complete intake information not only helps tailor services to the victim’s unique circumstances, but also identify needs and risk factors common to different subpopulations.

During the period analyzed, data elements most frequently unknown among victims served were primary income source and health insurance status. More than half of victim records were missing one or both of these data elements. Highest education level was incomplete for 40 percent of victims, and about one-third each were missing employment and marital status. Although the amount of records with unknown data elements was higher than ideal, they have decreased substantially in the last five years. For example, information indicating language and/or disability needs was incomplete for 38 percent of victims served in FY11. By FY15, this dropped to 22 percent. This promising trend will render future analyses of InfoNet data more relevant and informative, because findings will more closely represent all victims served.

Implications for policy and practice

Examine local data

While statewide measures of sexual violence such as InfoNet, rapes reported to law enforcement, and child sexual abuse reports are informative, information gathered locally can offer additional insight into service area-specific trends and needs. Statewide, sexual violence occurred at similar or slightly decreasing levels over the past five years, but local patterns may look different. Understanding local trends and efforts across the state may help determine what causes an increased or decreased risk for sexual violence and what works to minimize risks in different regions and subpopulations.

In addition to tracking local level InfoNet data, rape crisis centers can take steps to further inform their programs and community partners with service-area specific sexual violence data. They include:

  • Monitoring rapes reported to county and municipal law enforcement agencies in their service areas. County-level offense and arrest data are available on the Authority website. Municipal data are available from Illinois State Police. E-mail Authority researchers for assistance at cja.irc@illinois.gov.
  • Monitoring reports of child sexual abuse in their service areas. County-level DCFS data are available from the Authority. Other statistics, such as victim and perpetrator demographics and relationship types between them, are available from DCFS.
  • Requesting data local law enforcement agencies may collect beyond that required by Illinois State Police.6 These data may include other sex crimes besides rape, victim demographics, or relationships between victims and offenders. Comparing this information to InfoNet data may help service providers identify who is more likely to report to police, as well as who is more likely to receive service from a rape crisis center among those who do contact police. Sharing this information with local law enforcement may help strengthen efforts to ensure those less likely to receive services are aware of and can access them.
  • Contacting area hospitals and other health care providers for data they may collect on patients treated for injuries resulting from sexual violence. These data could provide another indicator of the extent and nature of sexual violence in a local service area.7
  • Continuing efforts to gather all necessary victim information at intake while being sensitive to the individual’s emotional state. Explaining that more complete data helps improve services for everyone, and that any identifying information is legally protected, may offer the victim some incentive to provide information.

Examine overrepresentation

Black and Hispanic victims were overrepresented among those served by rape crisis centers from FY11 to FY15 compared to Illinois’ general population. Have residents from these groups been victimized at higher rates or have they accessed services more often? Perhaps both patterns are contributing. Further examination of these patterns may help inform and equip service providers to better target programming to these populations. Underrepresented populations also should be explored. Rape crisis centers may decide an increase in outreach is needed.

Incident-based law enforcement reporting system transition

Illinois’ UCR system provides annual numbers of rapes reported to police, but specific details of these crimes are unknown. Recognizing limitations of aggregate crime data, a growing number of states are moving to the National Incident Based Reporting System, or NIBRS, overseen by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). 8 NIBRS collects more than 50 data elements, including victim and offender characteristics, relationships between victims and offenders, offense location, and the nature of any injury incurred. NIBRS yields data that greatly enhances analytic capabilities regarding the nature of victimization.9

A transition to NIBRS would capture data offering a better understanding of victims who most often come to the attention of law enforcement, and of these victims, who are more (or less) likely to receive services from a rape crisis center. Further, victim race and ethnicity data would help identify over-and underrepresentation occurring among subpopulations. This information could help agencies ensure more victims are informed about services and how to access them.

Increase access to culturally specific services

The Hispanic victim population and those communicating only in Spanish have significantly increased. State and local organizations should anticipate increasing earmarks for training, offering informational materials in Spanish, and hiring bilingual and bicultural staff. These resources are critical for reducing access barriers.

Service providers can also seek cross-training and collaboration opportunities with local, state, and national Hispanic/Latino cultural organizations. These organizations may offer solid advice for providing culturally specific services and become powerful allies for efforts toward systems change.

Recognize increase in older victims

Recognize growth in the number of older victims seeking help. While victims age 50 years or older still comprised the smallest portion of those served in FY15, their numbers are slowly increasing. Like other sexual violence victims, older adults often do not report or seek help for sexual violence, but their reasons for doing so may be more complex. They may be afraid to report a family member or caregiver, or fearful that reporting a caregiver will cause them to lose their independence or even their home. Older victims can not only be more vulnerable, but less likely to be believed due to others’ perceptions of them as less mentally competent.10

A 2005 study on elder female sexual abuse cases funded by the National Institute of Justice found that victims were not routinely evaluated to assess the psychological effects of an assault; the older the victim, the less likely the offender would be convicted. Victims in assisted living were also less likely to have their cases result in convictions.11

To address the needs of older victims, service providers may collaborate with organizations serving and advocating for the older population. The Illinois Department on Aging’s Adult Protective Services Program is locally coordinated through 45 provider agencies.

Leverage referral sources

Compare victim referral source data to resources devoted to training, outreach, and advocacy for systems change among community partner organizations. Referral sources can be a good indicator of progress toward educating and collaborating with health care, justice systems, and other community partners. A rape crisis center that increases staff resources to collaborate with hospital staff, police, and prosecutors and improve system responses may, as a result of these efforts, see an increase in victims referred from these groups.


  1. Counts of victims served are unduplicated at the center level but if a person received services from more than one center in Illinois during the reporting period, that person would be duplicated in statewide figures, counted once for each center from which he or she received services.
  2. The sum of the average number of people served each year (10,200 x 5 = 51,000) is greater than the unduplicated count of people served over all five years (about 37,000), because some people received services in multiple fiscal years.
  3. In addition to hotline calls, crisis intervention contacts may include in-person requests for crisis intervention services from a rape crisis center by a victim, without completing the intake process to become a formal client.
  4. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’ UCR Program initiated the collection of rape data under a revised definition within the Summary Based Reporting System. The term “forcible” was removed from the offense name, it became gender neutral, and the definition was changed to “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
  5. Child advocacy centers provide a child-friendly, safe and neutral location in which law enforcement and child protective service investigators may conduct and observe forensic interviews with children who are alleged victims of sexual abuse, and where the child and non-offending family members receive support, crisis intervention and referrals. Child advocacy centers’ main objective is to reduce trauma to child victims by bringing all disciplines together and sharing information more efficiently to minimize duplication. These multidisciplinary teams are made up of law enforcement officers, child protective service personnel, prosecutors, lawyers, advocates, mental health therapists, and medical personnel (Children’ Advocacy Centers of Illinois).
  6. Always request data from other organizations in aggregate or de-identified format to preserve victim confidentiality.
  7. Always request data from other organizations in aggregate or de-identified format to preserve victim confidentiality.
  8. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (April 2015). New initiative aims to increase crime reporting in NIBRS. Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/cjis-link/april-2015/new-initiative-aims-to-increase-crime-reporting-in-nibrs.
  9. Roberts, D. J. & Wormeli, P. (September 2014). Why participating in NIBRS is a good choice for law enforcement [Electronic version]. The Police Chief, 81(9). Retrieved from http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&issue_id=92014&category_ID=4
  10. Burgess, A. W., Hanrahan, N. P., & Baker, T. (2005). Forensic markers in elder female sexual abuse cases. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 21(2), 399-412.
  11. Burgess, A. W., Hanrahan, N. P., & Baker, T. (2005). Forensic markers in elder female sexual abuse cases. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 21(2), 399-412.

Jennifer Hiselman

Jennifer Hiselman manages ICJIA’s InfoNet System, a web based data collection and reporting system used by over 100 victim service providers statewide. She joined ICJIA in 1996 as a researcher with focus areas in victimization, victim services, domestic violence and sexual assault. She worked closely with ICJIA’s Federal and State Grants Unit assessing Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grantees’ performance, developing data collection tools and supporting victim services strategic planning. She lead an evaluation of Illinois’ Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) programs and the state’s first crime victimization survey of citizens. Jennifer has served as ICJIA’s InfoNet manager since 2005. In addition to continuing research in her focus areas, she oversees the operation of InfoNet, manages project budgets, provides training and technical assistance, hosts user forums to identify new data collection needs, and works closely with victim service providers and other stakeholders using InfoNet’s data for strategic planning. Outside of ICJIA, Jennifer volunteers for a domestic violence service provider in her community.