Democrats and Republicans Show Rare Unity on New “Bill of Rights” For Rape Survivors

[DIGEST: 114th Congress, Huffington Post, The Guardian]

On Monday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Sexual Assault Survivors Act. Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Richard Blumenthal, Patrick Leahy and seven other Democratic, Independent and Republican senators sponsored the legislation, which was included in the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act to continue federal funding for tracking sex crime offenders.

The Sexual Assault Survivors Act would create a “Bill of Rights” for rape survivors in federal cases. Its provisions would:

  • keep survivors from being prevented from or charged for a medical forensic examination;
  • require that rape collection kits are kept for the entire statute of limitations at no cost to the survivor;
  • inform survivors of test results from the rape kit and the medical examination, so long as that did not have negative results for the investigation;
  • provide survivors with written policies about the rape kit; and
  • require the prosecutor to notify the survivor before destroying a rape kit, and allow the survivor to prevent that action through written request.

Senator Shaheen said, “This bill will send a powerful message to survivors all across the country: You do have rights, we do care about you, if you choose to come forward, we are going to be there for you and we are going to ensure a justice system that treats you with dignity and fairness.”

Sen. Shaheen. (Credit: Source.)

After a sexual assault, survivors who get a forensic medical exam are given the option of preserving DNA evidence of the attack. The evidence from this exam goes into a “rape kit,” which is, ideally, used in the prosecution of the assailant.  

Procedures involving the processing of rape kits have come under question recently, after the federal government estimated that there are hundreds of thousands that remain untested. The potential for years between collection and testing combined with the states’ statute of limitations for rape–generally around three to five years–can leave the evidence effectively useless.

Currently, only a handful of states have state-wide laws

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