With the political climate the way it is right now and the election coming up, tensions are high in Washington. It’s hard to get both sides to agree on anything, much less accomplish anything worthwhile. That all changed on Tuesday when legislators in the House unanimously passed a bill that will protect survivors of sexual assault as their case moves forward in the legal system. 399 votes for, zero against. The bill is now awaiting President Obama’s signature before it can be officially written into law.
The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights eliminates costs associated with rape kit exams and ensures that rape kits must be preserved for 20 years or the statute of limitations. The bill came to be after Amanda Nguyen experienced a sexual assault in Massachusets and realized that due to the laws in her state, she’d have to file an extension request every six months in order to keep her rape kit viable. She helped create the bill and is now the founder of civil rights nonprofit Rise.
This bill is a massive win for sexual assault survivors everywhere. Choosing to report a sexual assault isn’t easy, and it’s even harder to follow through with a case when you feel like the system is against you. This bill should help survivors get justice for the crimes committed against them in a way that doesn’t retraumatize them.
The bill, which only applies to federal cases, eliminates the cost of the invasive medical forensic exam that a victim undergoes after an assault and requires he/she be informed of the results. Additionally, a rape kit must be preserved for 20 years or the statute of limitations, whichever is shorter; when the evidence is scheduled to be destroyed, the victim must be informed 60 days beforehand and given the option to preserve the kit for longer.
This bill did not address the hundreds of thousands of unprocessed rape kits, which is another hurdle in the fight for justice for sexual assault victims. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and this bill is a huge step towards that goal. Rachel Lovell, a senior research associate with the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University says that this bill is vital to establishing better victim cooperation which often leads to the successful prosecution of a perpetrator.
“If you’re not preserving the kits and not allowing victims choice and voice in this process, then nothing else can happen from that,” Lovell says. “It’s the very first important step.”
There’s still a long way to go when it comes to this issue, but it’s comforting to know that helping victims of sexual assault is something both sides can agree on. .
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