NBC 5 Investigates

Dismissed: Behind the NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago investigation

NBC 5 Investigates – along with Telemundo Chicago Investiga – spent six months looking at every account of sexual assault, sexual abuse, incest, child pornography, sex trafficking and other sex crimes documented on the Chicago Police Department's crimes database.

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Over the course of a wide variety of stories reported by the NBC Chicago and Telemundo Chicago investigative teams over recent years, our reporters and producers noticed a recurring theme: Case after case of alleged sexual assault or abuse that never resulted in an arrest, was dismissed in court or was pled down in court to a non-sex conviction (such as battery or disorderly conduct) that bore no indication that someone was initially charged with a sex crime.

So – in the fall of 2023 – our investigative teams set out to research this issue. 

By all accounts, experts agree that at least three out of five incidents of sexual assault and abuse go unreported altogether – for a variety of reasons.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx – herself a survivor of sexual assault – said that sex crimes are one of the most underreported of all crimes.

“The violation is so personal, and so deep,” Foxx said. “The mere process of reporting – having to tell a stranger that someone has violated your body; going to a hospital; explaining to a nurse and the rape kits; and then talking to a prosecutor; talking to a victim-witness specialist – the process, in and of itself, is incredibly daunting.”

For the minority of incidents that were reported, NBC 5 Investigates – along with Telemundo Chicago Investiga – spent six months looking at every account of sexual assault, sexual abuse, incest, child pornography, sex trafficking and other sex crimes documented on the comprehensive Chicago Police Department’s crimes database.

We created a massive spreadsheet, recording every case reported to Chicago police from Jan. 1, 2018, through Dec. 31, 2023 – a six-year period. We eliminated any case where it appeared the allegations of sexual misconduct were unclear, suspect or missing altogether.

We found 21,471 cases in all, reported to the Chicago Police Department in a six-year period spanning from 2018 through 2023.

As we researched each incident, we quickly discovered that most of the victims and survivors never saw an arrest after they reported their assault to police. With the exception of about one hundred cases we found - where an alleged victim recanted or where the sex charges simply did not seem warranted - each person told police their individual accounts of being sexually abused and assaulted. Yet their alleged assailants have not been charged.

For those who were charged, we cross-referenced each one of those arrests with the online files of all cases in Cook County criminal court, to see what happened in each case.

This involved several months of recording each police narrative to make sure – again – that it seemed to be a credible accusation of sexual misconduct; looking up court cases, one by one; reading each court document; tracing each case as it made its way through court and the judicial process – which often takes years – and finding out what the resolution was – for each case.

We started to find patterns, such as domestic abuse among relatives – often an adult relative abusing a minor child – with other children then coming forward to report past abuse.

We also traced each suspect’s past criminal history and found a significant number who had been accused of sexual misconduct in previous years as well – sometimes two, three or even more times.

We found allegations of abuse by teachers, police and coaches; massage therapists, ride-share drivers, and tattoo artists; work colleagues; casual acquaintances and neighbors. 

For every case, we read every document and recorded every bit of information we could find: 

  • The race, gender and age of the defendants and the victims
  • Whether an alleged offender was registered as a sex offender in Illinois
  • Whether they were in prison, on probation or free
  • What they were arrested for
  • What they were initially charged with in court
  • How their case was resolved (with a dismissal or a conviction)
  • And their sentence (prison or probation) – if any

We also filed hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests for police reports, arrest reports, supplementary reports, police bodycam video, surveillance video and other records that might shed light on each case. And we spoke with experts on the issue, including State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, a law professor at Northwestern University and the executive director of Illinois’ main advocacy group for survivors of sexual assault.

And we made phone calls – scores of phone calls – to the victims and survivors named in the cases we found. A surprising number of these people wanted to talk to us about their cases. And most were unhappy with how their cases made their way through a police report, an arrest, into court and on to a final judgment. 

It turns out that many of these victims and survivors experienced the exact issues we were discovering in our research: A startling number of sex-assault cases where no arrest was made; and – of those where someone was arrested – an equally startling number of cases that never made it to court; were dismissed once they got there; or were pled down to a non-sex crime.

In the end, NBC 5 Investigates and Telemundo Investiga logged a total of 21,471 reports of sexual assault, abuse and other sex crimes to police in the six years between 2018 and 2023 in the City of Chicago. 

And for a total of 19,884 of those victims, Chicago police never made an arrest in their case. That’s just a seven percent arrest rate, for all reported sexual assaults and other sex crimes in Chicago during this six-year period.

Police did make arrests for the remaining 1,587 survivors and victims. However, NBC5 Investigates and Telemundo Chicago Investiga found that those arrests almost never led to a resolution that allowed these survivors to feel they had gotten any kind of justice:

  • 317 of those arrests never made it to court – sometimes because the victim ultimately declined to press charges; other times because the state’s attorney didn’t feel there was a solid case.
  • 356 other victims’ cases are pending in court and not yet decided.
  • 276 of those arrests had their cases dismissed in court, with no conviction.

That leaves just 638 victims and survivors who saw their offenders arrested and convicted. That’s just under three percent – 2.97% to be precise – of all of the reported sex assaults we examined in Chicago.

But even then, NBC 5 Investigates and Telemundo Chicago Investiga found issues for nearly half of these remaining survivors – the ones who saw their cases through the entire justice system – in terms of what happened to their assailants:

  • Our investigation revealed that 216 of those victims’ assailants were convicted of a lesser crime – like battery, unlawful restraint, or disorderly conduct – which showed no indication that the offender was originally accused of a sex crime, and carried no requirement for the convicted person to register as a sex offender.
  • For another 99 survivors, their assailant was convicted of a sex crime, but was allowed to walk out of court, with no prison sentence.
  • That means that nearly half of the few convictions we found – 49.37% of just 638 convictions -- resulted in a plea down to a non-sex crime or no prison sentence at all.

The remaining 323 victims and survivors -- out of the 21,471 who reported they’d been sexually assaulted in Chicago between 2018 and 2023 -- are the only ones who saw their assailant convicted of an actual sex crime and sentenced to prison. That is just 1.5% of all sex crimes reported in Chicago during that time.

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