Survivors’ Bill of Rights Law Helps U.S. Sex-Assault Victims

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The Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, which passed Congress without opposition, became law last Friday, when President Obama signed it, guaranteeing certain rights for victims of sexual assault in federal criminal cases, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The legislation provides that victims will not have to pay for a rape kit to collect physical evidence in the event of a suspected sexual assault, and it expressly permits survivors to request that their kits be preserved until the statute of limitations expires. Most sexual assault cases are tried in state courts, not at the federal level, but the new law could serve as a model for state legislatures, perhaps ushering in a nationwide discussion on how to refine the criminal justice system’s handling of rape cases. Seven states are considering similar bills.

Amanda Nguyen, who helped draft the proposal that became the basis for federal and Massachusetts laws, said her activism began at a hospital in 2013: Within 24 hours of being sexually assaulted, she underwent the hours-long examination to collect evidence for a rape kit. One of the pamphlets she received told her that if she didn’t report the crime to law enforcement, the kit would be destroyed in six months – unless she filed for an extension. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for the prosecution of rape is 15 years. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said, “This law demonstrates that citizens can still effect positive change and that bipartisan progress is still possible.” For every 1,000 rapes, only about 344 are reported to police, leading to 63 arrests, 13 referrals for prosecution, seven flony convictions, and six rapists in prison, estimates the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. By comparison, an estimated 20 robbers are serving time for every 1,000 robberies committed.

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