A bill being introduced in the Senate today, the Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act, could change how victims of sexual assault are treated by the legal system, increasing the specific protections for them nationwide.
The legislation is largely the result of advocacy by 24-year-old Amanda Nguyen, herself a survivor of sexual assault, and currently the White House's deputy liaison at the State Department. Nguyen established her sexual assault survivors advocacy group Rise after being raped and going through a harrowing process with the legal system in Massachusetts, the Guardian reports, struggling to file her complaint and track the status of the rape test kit she underwent after the attack.
"The hardest part was realizing that the system meant to protect and deliver justice is broken. The system tells survivors to go to authorities to get help. I did that, but navigating the broken system was worse than the rape itself," she told The New York Times. The bill would make filing and following up on a sexual assault complaint less onerous for survivors, who may find it difficult to seek justice when they're faced with many hurdles and not much support.
Although there is a 15-year statute of limitations for survivors to decide whether or not to file charges, the state destroys rape test kits after six months unless survivors file for an extension–that's something Nguyen still has to do every six months.
“The system essentially makes me live my life by date of rape,” she told the Guardian.
Some states have more comprehensive legal protections for survivors than others, but the bill would set a new national standard requiring that they have access to sexual assault counselors and information about their rights. It would also create greater transparency around rape test kits, thousands of which remain untested in police departments around the country (partly due to a lack of resources and a lack of legal compulsion to check the tests). Under the proposed law, survivors who submit a rape kit would have the right to know where the kit is and whether it has been tested.
“Without a clear set of rights articulated in the law, it’s difficult for even the best law enforcement professionals to ensure that survivors receive fair, effective, consistent treatment, particularly across counties and states," U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, the bill's main sponsor in the senate, told the Times. A resolution encouraging states to adopt their own bills of rights was introduced in the house of representatives last year, with bipartisan support.
"With so much at stake, and with justice too often denied to survivors, we must do better,” Shaheen said.
Correction: The legislation introduced in the house of representatives last year was a resolution, not a bill.