Warning: This article contains details of a sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Chicago police are reporting a surge in reports of sexual assault in the city, and one woman is sharing her story as she pushes for big changes in the way the department works to solve sex crimes.
In the last week alone, there have been 39 reports of sexual assault in the city, according to Chicago police. Since the beginning of 2021, there have been 1,024 reported sexual assaults, a large increase from the 840 reported through this date in 2020.
Normally, NBC 5 does not name victims of sexual assault, but Laurie Empen says that her face and her name should be front and center as she works to change the way the Chicago Police Department investigates assaults.
Empen was sexually assaulted 20 months ago, and no one has been arrested in the case. She says that assault cases are treated differently within the department, and she is pushing for CPD to create a special unit dedicated solely to solving sex crimes against adults.
“I’m not hiding. This should have never happened,” she says. “I’m speaking out for the generations of women who were never believed, who were shamed and ridiculed and nothing was done.”
On Oct. 19, 2019, Empen was sexually assaulted, and she believes she was drugged by a stranger she met at a bar.
“I initially said no to a second drink, then I said yes to it,” she recalls. “Then I wake up the next morning, and I have no memory of how I got home.”
Two days later, Empen says she went to an emergency room. A rape kit was administered, and her statements were taken by police.
“I turned in this man’s jacket,” she says.
More than a year and a half later, there’s been little movement in her case, and now Empen is calling for change. She wants to see a dedicated sex crime unit in CPD.
“That means we have detectives (who are) trained and working on only these cases,” she says. “Right now, these detectives are working homicides, shootings and stabbings….and then a sexual assault.”
The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation says many rape cases end with no charges. The group works with assault survivors as they work their way through the criminal justice system.
“(We focus on) advocating on their behalf with police, hoping these cases will be charged,” Mallory Littlejon says.
Empen has contacted the mayor’s office and her alderman. She is hoping others will join her cause by writing to their aldermen, to Mayor Lightfoot’s office and to Police Superintendent David Brown.
The CPD issued a statement:
“(CPD) deeply recognizes the lifelong impact sex crimes have on survivors. Efforts to improve outcomes include building trauma-focused interview rooms and giving extra training to detectives who handle these cases.”