Senate Passes Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill Of Rights

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The Senate unanimously passed legislation to establish basic rights for survivors of sexual assault today. The bill, which now must pass the House of Representatives to become law, was authored by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) with input from Amanda Nguyen, a sexual assault survivor who founded national civil rights nonprofit Rise to implement a Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights.

If passed into law, the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights will be monumental in standardizing the treatment of survivors by the criminal justice and medical systems in America.

Seeking justice as a survivor of sexual assault is a disturbingly arduous process, requiring in-person follow-ups in order to make sure rape kit test results aren’t permanently disposed of — Nguyen is required to return to the state of her assault every six months to make sure the DNA evidence gathered from a forensic exam is not destroyed.

Different states have varied ways of dealing with the crimes of rape and other sexual assaults, many of which leave a lot of responsibility on the survivor. Navigating the criminal justice system is daunting enough, let alone while recovering from a traumatic experience. As Nguyen experienced herself, survivors sometimes have to pay for a rape kit test, and some states don’t keep them for longer than six months, jeopardizing essential evidence necessary for putting rapists behind bars. “When the federal government makes changes to criminal statutes,” Shaheen said in a Medium post outlining the legislation last month, “states often quickly follow suit.”

“When you hear about Amanda’s experience, you can see why nearly 70% of survivors don’t report their rape or decide not to press charges,” wrote Shaheen. “This has to change.”

The basic rights included in this new legislation, designed to address the unique challenges faced by sexual assault survivors, include the following:

1. The right to have a sexual assault evidence collection kit preserved for the entire relevant statute of limitations.
2. The right to be notified in writing 60 days prior to the destruction of a sexual assault evidence collection kit.
3. The right to request further preservation of a sexual assault evidence collection kit.
4. The right to be informed of important results of a sexual assault forensic examination.

“The system failed Amanda and so many other survivors of sexual assault across the country,” Shaheen wrote. “Today, the Senate has sent a message that it’s time to change the culture around how survivors are treated in our criminal justice system. I’m hopeful that the House will soon follow suit and we can send this important legislation to the President’s desk.”

At this writing, a Change.org petition launched by Nguyen calling on legislators to pass the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights had more than 100,000 signatures.
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