by Jeff Fleischer(Medill News Service, October 8, 2002)
Joe Birkett, Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general, announced his plans for combating domestic violence Tuesday. He said his Women Protection Plan includes measures designed to increase reporting of domestic abuse and protect victims’ rights.
“The purpose is to make sure the victim understands the criminal justice system is there to protect them, not to make them feel intimidated,” Birkett said.
With October marking Domestic Violence Awareness Month — and with Democratic opponent Lisa Madigan touting her views on the subject in television advertisements — Birkett outlined several specific programs he hopes to enact if elected.
Speaking at a Chicago news conference, Birkett proposed creating an immunity provision for rape victims, so that no charges will be filed against them based on the results of medical tests taken when they report the crime.
“Any results that show alcohol in her blood if she’s underage, or drugs in her bloodstream, will not be able to be used against her in a court of law to prosecute her,” Birkett said. “Women often fear the consequences of reporting; that they may themselves be trapped in the criminal-justice system.”
He also recommend revoking the bond of felony sex offenders for repeat domestic violence charges, notifying local police when a violent sex offender is released into their neighborhood, and allowing more victims of sexual assault to obtain court protection orders.
“Under current law, in order to receive an order of protection, the victim must be an acquaintance, a partner or a spouse,” Birkett said. “We need to expand the ability to get orders of protection.”
Birkett said he also wants to expand several existing programs, including the State’s Attorney Victim Empowerment Act (SAVE), statewide. SAVE is a pilot program started by the Naperville Police Department in DuPage County, where Birkett currently serves as state’s attorney.
“[With SAVE], a woman is taken to court, picked up and driven to the first bail hearing where, under the law, she can provide input into the setting of bail and the conditions of release,” Birkett said.
Birkett’s opponent, State Sen. Lisa Madigan (D-Chicago), released her domestic violence reduction plan last summer. The Madigan plan includes a proposal to “allow for admission of out-of-court statements of a crime victim whose failure to testify is caused by the defendant’s intimidation,” and another to make a domestic battery record outside Illinois a factor in sentencing repeat offenders.
“As attorney general, I will not only crack down on domestic abuse and sexual assault crimes, I will work to prevent them,” Madigan said in a statement. “One case of violence against a woman or child is one too many.”
Birkett has previously said that as a 10-year-old boy, he watched his mother and siblings attacked by a gang, and he cites that experience as the reason he entered law enforcement.
“Protection of women and children has been a top priority of mine since I became a prosecutor 21 years ago. It is one of the reasons I became a lawyer,” Birkett said.