Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act Of 2016: 'Our Nation’s Laws Stand Firmly On The Side Of Survivors'

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden launch the It's On Us campaign in 2014
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden launch the It's On Us campaign in 2014

Let me begin with a few statistics: One in 5 college women and 1 in 16 college men are sexually assaulted while in college. More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. Nearly 63% of men at one university who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape admitted to committing repeat rapes.

The statistics continue but these are the top three that are imperative to share. In the midst of one of the most vulgar elections in America’s history a conversation on sexual assault is taking place globally. Despite my personal political beliefs, I cannot as a human being condone the damaging rhetoric taking place in light of the many women stepping forward accusing Donald Trump of sexual assault.

As coincidence often does I began reading “Half The Sky” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn this month as part of an online book club called Our Shared Shelf. Within its pages, one sentence has stuck out to me: “When a woman does stand up, it’s imperative that outsiders champion her.” Which is why the recent work in Congress is so utterly important.

Actress Olivia Wilde was one of the stars who brought 'Half the Sky' to life in a PBS documentary that aired in 2012
Actress Olivia Wilde was one of the stars who brought 'Half the Sky' to life in a PBS documentary that aired in 2012

The work to create and pass this bill began in 2014 when Harvard University student Amanda Nguyen reported being sexually assaulted to the police. While police searched for the culprit Nguyen had to work to keep her rape kit from being destroyed, part of a state law that required kits to be stored for no more than six months. Having to fight, and work relentlessly, to keep her kit from being destroyed Nguyen created a nonprofit called Rise. One of the declarations made on the website’s homepage states: We are Social Innovators.

The nonprofit’s main goal was to change the law to help victims of sexual assault. That was when Nguyen began working with United States Senator Jeanne Shaheen. After two years of hard work Nguyen and others who worked tirelessly on this legislation were successful when the Senate and House both unanimously voted the bill through. President Obama then signed the bill into law early last week.

The main homepage for Nguyen's nonprofit movement Rise
The main homepage for Nguyen's nonprofit movement Rise

Called the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights the bill is also being referred to as the victims Bill of Rights. In short, the bill gives new rights to survivors of sexual assault including, “survivors can no longer be charged fees or prevented from getting a rape kit examination, even if they have not yet decided to file a police report.” Once a victim takes a rape kit the bill declares that the kit must be appropriately preserved and survivors will be notified when their kit is close to being destroyed, Even further, survivors will also be notified when important results come forth “including a DNA profile match and toxicology report.” It is a bill that has been a long time coming not only for Nguyen but for the many victims of sexual assault.

It is worth noting that rape kits “more than 100,000 of them, as of 2014, have often languished for years in police warehouses and crime labs, going untested due to a lack of funds and, some argue, contempt for victims.” There have been many advocates who have fought to end the rape kit backlog and complete disregard for victims of sexual assault including Vice President Joe Biden and actress, and activist, Mariska Hargitay.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen with Amanda Nguyen
Senator Jeanne Shaheen with Amanda Nguyen

In 2014, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden launched the It’s On Us initiative to get the attention of universities and college students across the country. In the announcement Obama was clear in saying, “It is on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and to refuse to accept what’s unacceptable." Similarly, a year later Law and Order: SVU actress, and Joyful Heart foundation Founder and President, Mariska Hargitay announced that $80 million had been awarded in funding “for law enforcement agencies to address their backlogs of untested rape kits.” The action of these individuals shows that the conversation is shifting.

When Senator Shaheen introduced the bill in February she made it clear what the mission was about, “Beginning today, our nation’s laws stand firmly on the side of survivors of sexual assault. I hope that these basic rights will encourage more survivors to come forward and pursue justice." The statistics, attitudes, and conversation needs to change. We can continue to fight over the difference between “locker room banter” and sexual assault or we can be champions for those who are so bravely speaking out.

You can read the bill in its entirety HERE

This is part one in a series where I examine sexual assaults on university campuses across the country. I advocate strongly for the rights of the survivors and want to provide a place for their voices to be heard. If you or someone you know have been a victim of sexual assault please reach out to me at prattje16@gmail.com if you are interested in having your voice be heard.

CONVERSATIONS