An Underutilized Tool for Sexual Assault Victims: the Illinois Gender Violence Act

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Sexual Assault Victim

Many victims of sexual assault are unaware that in addition to bringing claims under state or federal anti-harassment laws, it would be wise to utilize the Illinois Gender Violence Act (“IL GVA” or "Act"). I am on a mission to educate folks about the IL GVA and to make sure that victims avail themselves of the Act’s expansive protections.

As a plaintiff’s employment attorney, I have seen first-hand how utilizing the IL GVA provides extra leverage to my clients, and often contributes to a swift resolution of their claims, empowering them to focus on rebuilding and recovering after traumatic workplace experiences. Below are four reasons why I strongly encourage attorneys to get up to speed on the Act, and why more victims need to educate themselves on its protections:

  1. The IL GVA affords victims more time to file a complaint.

Federal and civil rights laws enforced by the EEOC and IDHR require victims of sex harassment, including sexual assault, to file a complaint within 300 days of when the last harassment occurred. This narrow window of time is often unsuitable for sexual assault victims, who often require additional time to process the assaults, to gather information about available resources, and to decide whether to step forward.

In contrast, the Illinois Gender Violence Act affords individuals seven years after an alleged sexual assault to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator (i.e., there is a seven-year statute of limitations). The Act further allows two years for filing a claim after a threatened sexual assault. These more generous timelines make much more sense given the nature of the abuse in question.

  1. Sexual assault claims are easier to prove under the IL GVA than anti-sex harassment laws, in my humble opinion.

Stay with me while I get a little technical. It’s worth it!

A victim may have a cause of action for “gender-related violence” under the Illinois Gender Violence Act if the aggressor engaged in an “act of violence or physical aggression satisfying the elements of battery” that occurred on the basis of the victim’s sex. Under Illinois law, battery means that someone intentionally and without legal justification caused bodily harm to another person, or made physical contact with someone else in an insulting or provoking way.

A claim can also arise if there was a “physical intrusion or physical invasion of a sexual nature under coercive conditions that satisfy the elements of battery.” In fact, even a realistic threat of one of these two things can lead to a claim.

State and federal employment anti-harassment laws require victims to prove that the perpetrator’s conduct was “severe or pervasive.” In layman’s terms, this means that to prove severity, an assault must be rather serious, such as penetration or touching of one’s private anatomy. To prove pervasive, the conduct must have occurred with some frequency. In contrast to these anti-harassment laws, there is no requirement under the IL GVA to prove that assaults were “severe or pervasive,” removing what can otherwise be an onerous threshold of proof.

  1. The IL GVA covers a broad range of activity, not just rape or violence.

Penetration or other more violent forms of assault are not required for a claim under the IL GVA. Any harmful or offensive contact made with the victim’s body may qualify if it was initiated because of the victim’s gender.

For example, a federal court in Illinois denied a motion to dismiss an IL GVA claim when groping was done over the victim’s clothing. In Cruz v. Primary Staffing, Inc., No. 10 c 5653, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29237, 2011 WL 1042629 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 22, 2011), the plaintiff alleged there was an IL GVA violation when a man pushed himself into her so she could feel his penis over her clothing, and also grabbed and squeezed her buttocks with his hands.

The IL GVA really does cover a wide gamut of activity, from the extremely egregious to more common misconduct. I have made allegations under this Act for everything ranging from anal rape to offensive physical contact over a client’s clothing.

  1. Starting January 1, 2024, victims can bring claims against their perpetrators and their employers.

The IL GVA has always allowed claims against perpetrators, but as of January 1, 2024, individuals may also bring actions against their employers under more limited circumstances, and they will have four years to do so. That means a victim of workplace sexual assault can sue not only the person who committed the assault, but a workplace, as long as the workplace either (1) failed to supervise, train, or monitor the perpetrator; or (2) failed to appropriately respond to information regarding the violations.

One Important Clarification

Under both the Illinois Gender Violence Act and federal and state laws, claims are not limited to the actual workplace. If an employee is “working” outside of the workplace, such as attending a work-related event or holiday party, traveling, or otherwise working off-site, a victim may be able to bring a claim, and should connect with an employment attorney to assess his or her options.

If you are interested in exploring whether your claims of sexual assault, harmful or offensive contact in the workplace, or sex harassment could constitute a legal claim, feel free to reach out to our firm here