(Content Warning: As you can see from the title, this is about the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights. This of course means general discussion of sexual assault and rape.)
Those are three words I’m not sure I’ve heard in a really long time. Especially attached to something so good.
Sexual-assault survivors will soon have a federal bill of rights if Barack Obama signs a piece of legislation that has already passed through both chambers of Congress. The House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday requiring that victims be informed of their rights and the progress of their medical forensic examinations, commonly called rape kits, in federal cases of sexual assault.
The Senate’s version of the bill also passed unanimously in May. Once a small discrepancy is resolved in conference, the legislation will go to the president.
If Obama gives it his signature, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights will ensure that victims are offered a medical forensic examination for free (many are still charged for the procedure); that they are informed of its results; that the evidence gathered is kept for 20 years or the duration of the statute of limitations, whichever comes first; that survivors may request to be notified 60 days before the rape kit is destroyed; and that they may request to preserve the evidence for a longer period of time. The bill also establishes a working group to evaluate the efficacy of its provisions and report back in two years.
While not absolutely perfect (it really can’t do anything about the backlog of untested rape kits, estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands), this is a huge first step. I’m actually really happy and rather surprised by this.
Not just because this bill of rights passed, but because it passed unanimously. That’s pretty amazing, frankly…
From the Slate article:
“This is a big step towards fixing an insufficient, broken patchwork that deprives victims of a fair legal process,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who introduced the bill with fellow Californian Rep. Mimi Walters, in a statement. “Today’s vote to overwhelmingly pass the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act means we are much closer to ensuring victims of sexual assault have meaningful access to justice.”
For those who aren’t aware, this was a bill drafted by Rise. Again, I’ll just quote Slate, since I’m terrible at summarising without plagiarizing…
[Rise is] a nonprofit that supports survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. BuzzFeed reports that Rise’s 24-year-old founder, Amanda Nguyen, was horrified to learn that evidence from her own post-rape forensic examination, which she underwent two years ago in Massachusetts, could be destroyed after just six months unless she filed paperwork to request further preservation. She says she became embroiled in a bureaucratic maze trying to figure out how to file the request because no one ever told her how it was done. Eventually, she figured it out, but she has to go through the same process every six months to keep her kit preserved. “The system essentially makes me live my life by date of rape,” Nguyen told the Guardian earlier this year.
Unfortunately, the survivors’ bill of rights that’s on its way out of Congress will have limited impact. It only applies to federal cases—sex crimes that occur across state lines, in the military, in a federal prison or other federal institution, in a maritime jurisdiction, or on land operated by the federal government or tribal nations. RISE is currently working with state legislatures in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Oregon on similar bills that would cover sexual assaults prosecuted on the state level, as most are.
Another limitation of the bill is that, as I said earlier, it doesn’t do much of anything about the backlog of untested rape kits that exists. Some states are working through their backlogs, and have actually identified serial rapists. You can sign up with and support End the Backlog to help with this. The Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights won’t be much help in this area.
But it is a huge first step and one we should all be proud of. I’m really happy this passed, and I’m very confident that President Obama will sign it. This is wonderful.
Now let’s make sure that it continues into the states and is the start of a change to make the system work for survivors of rape and sexual assault, rather than against them.