School navigation

National Crime Victim Law Institute

RISE Project Partner Profile: Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

September 11, 2020

  • Rights In Systems Enforced Project logo

A core aspect of the RISE Project is NCVLI subgranting to six direct service providers to provide legal representation to assist victims in asserting and seeking enforcement of their rights in criminal cases, and, as necessary during and in support of such representation, provide those victims representation on collateral civil legal matters arising from the victimization. Following a competitive selection process, six were selected. Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation is one of them.

What is the mission of your agency and how does the RISE Project fit within that?

Chicago Alliance to Abolish Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) addresses the culture, institutions, and individuals that perpetrate, profit from, or support sexual exploitation. Our work includes prevention, policy reform, community engagement, and legal services. We envision a community free from all forms of sexual exploitation, including sexual assault and the commercial sex trade.

Social and institutional systems do not adequately serve survivors of sexual violation. Sexual violation disproportionately harms people from marginalized communities, including girls and women, people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, and immigrants and undocumented people. To best support survivors, CAASE confronts the inequities that fuel or intersect with sexual harm.

The RISE Project is critical to this work. In Chicago, the marginalized communities most impacted by sexual harm correspond to geography; the South side and south suburban neighborhoods in our city are the most vulnerable to sexual harm, and yet are the least resourced with quality services accessible to them in the wake of any victimization. The RISE Project at CAASE not only funds a general expansion of victims’ rights work, but also commits us to devoting staff resources to an expansion into these communities to ensure that access to justice is available to all survivors of sexual harm in our city.

When and how did you first start working with NCVLI?

Long before CAASE began working on the RISE Project, our agency has worked collaboratively with NCVLI to help advance victims’ rights in Illinois. Before CAASE even had a Legal department, our now-Executive Director collaborated with NCVLI frequently in her individual representation of crime victims. A particular standout from these early years of collaboration includes a case in which a judge had threatened to hold a survivor in contempt for refusing to watch a video of her assault as part of her testimony. NCVLI and Kaethe Morris Hoffer (CAASE’s now-Executive Director and then lead attorney in the case) collaborated overnight on a strategy for disrupting this very serious victims’ rights violation. NCVLI wrote an amazing brief that we were able to use successfully in conjunction with oral arguments to achieve success. NCVLI basically functioned as behind the scenes “TA magicians” in this case and in others since. This example is especially noteworthy, given that this case took place before we even had enforceable Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) in Illinois.

Tell us about a recent success/deliverable of your RISE Clinic.

In summer 2020, the Illinois RISE Clinic staff conducted a training at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO). CAASE trained the CCSAO’s Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Division on victims’ rights and the types of cases to refer to CAASE and, in exchange, the CCSAO will host a training for CAASE in August on DNA. The training strengthened existing relationships between members of CAASE’s Legal team and Cook County Assistant State Attorneys (ASAs) and resulted in new connections with ASAs who followed up after the training to discuss the content and ways to collaborate. Trainings like this provide great opportunities to share information, build new relationships with prosecutors, and to build awareness of victims’ rights and what it looks like when victims have attorneys by their side.

What motivates you to do the work that you do with victims’ rights in your community?

The criminal justice system is one of the primary ways through which the United States expresses its values. Because there is a massive gap between the justice and attention that survivors of sexual harm get compared to what they deserve, including within the criminal justice system, it is imperative that victims of sex crimes be provided with legal representation. CAASE is dedicated to making justice real for survivors, whatever that looks like for them, by asserting their rights as victims of crime.

Why should other individuals, clinics, and/or organizations get involved with victims’ rights enforcement?

One of the primary ways our culture expresses its priorities and intentions around justice for victims of crime is through our criminal justice system. It is imperative that attorneys, clinics, and organizations nationwide advocate for sexually harmed people to ensure that the criminal justice system lives up to its obligation to take seriously the rights of sexually harmed people, especially those in most vulnerable communities.

What would you most like for the victims’ rights movement to accomplish in the next five years? How does your work to aid in that accomplishment?

CAASE would like for the victims’ rights movement to persuasively demonstrate that attending to victims’ rights and interests is an integral part of ensuring that we have a justice system that is fair, equitable and capable of fulfilling its purpose. People who are concerned with victims’ rights have many concerns in common with other critics of the criminal justice system status quo. We would like there to be a better merging of voices between criminal justice reform movements and other movements that are designed to empower and recognize the rights of crime victims.

Why should other individuals, clinics, and/or organizations partner with NCVLI?

NCVLI is simply the leading victims’ rights expert in our country! Their capacity to partner with individual attorneys, clinics and groups of attorneys is unparalleled, and their commitment to meeting lawyers where they are and helping them become even more powerful advocates than they’ve ever been before is unsurpassed.

Learn more about the Rights in Systems Enforced Project here.