POLITICS

Lawmakers Introduce Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill Of Rights On State Level

The bipartisan bill encourages states to give victims of sexual violence the same protections they’re currently afforded under federal law.

Members of Congress introduced a bipartisan bill Tuesday morning meant to protect the rights of sexual assault survivors on the state level.

The Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act encourage states to give victims of sexual assault the same protections they’re currently afforded under federal law. The bill was introduced by Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), as well as Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

The bill, a counterpart to the 2016 federal Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, includes some of the most basic protections for survivors, such as the right to undergo a medical forensic exam, commonly known as a rape kit, after an assault. Other rights protected in the bill include a survivor’s right to preserve the contents of their rape kit, the right to be informed of any results from the medical exam, and a survivor’s right to be informed before the government destroys their rape kit for whatever reason. A survivor would also reserve the right to have their kit preserved if they do not want the government to dispose of it.

“No survivor, regardless of what state they live in, should be re-traumatized by a broken criminal justice system or forced to suffer the indignity of being charged for their rape kit or have their rape kits destroyed without consent before the statute of limitations has expired,” Speier said in a Tuesday press release.

“Survivors deserve better than a patchwork of laws that vary from state to state ― their civil rights should be bedrock,” she added. “This is how we can restore justice to a shattered process and ensure that our brave survivors can move forward.”

In the same release, Grassley said that medical exams like rape kits are “essential to delivering justice” in sexual assault cases. 

“In their pursuit of justice, the last thing sexual assault survivors need is uncertainty about the preservation of evidence,” he said.

The federal Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, written by Shaheen and later signed into law by President Barack Obama, currently ensures these basic protections to victims in federal cases. The states act aims to expand these protections to survivors on the state level. After the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act passed in 2016, 21 states adopted similar legislation. The bill introduced on Tuesday hopes to encourage all 50 states to adopt this legislation.

Congress is trying to incentivize states to adopt this legislation by offering 10% of the funding from the STOP formula grant, the largest Violence Against Women Act grant. 

Both the federal- and state-level Survivors’ Bill of Rights acts were created by survivor and activist Amanda Nguyen in response to the rape kit backlog in the U.S. In the past decade, 225,000 untested rape kits have been uncovered, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation initiative End The Backlog. All too often, rape kits ― which cost between $1,000 and $1,500 to test ― end up sitting untested in law enforcement facilities due to inadequate resources or funding. 

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