Law Squirrel

US Political Parties United on New Protections for Rape Survivors

US-SenateIt is relatively rare for the two political parties of the US to be united on both one issue and the approach that should be taken to deal with that issue. However, a recent bill providing additional protections to rape survivors has won the full support of representatives from both factions.

The Sexual Assault Survivors Act, which has been called a “Bill of Rights for rape survivors,” was sponsored by ten Republican, Democratic, and Independent senators. The legislation formed part of the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act, which aimed to secure continued government funding for efforts to track sex offenders. The Sexual Assault Survivors Act went before the US Senate for voting on Monday, when it was passed unanimously.

The provisions contained within the bill would establish a number of new rights and protections for survivors of sexual assault in the US. Under the Act, they would have a right not to be prevented from having a forensic examination, and not to be charged for such an examination. “Rape kits,” which are used to collect and preserve DNA evidence following a sexual assault, will have to be kept until the statute of limitations is over, and once again the survivor cannot be charged for this. Before prosecutors destroy the kit, they must first notify the survivor who will have an opportunity to prevent its destruction by requesting this in writing.

Survivors must also be supplied with a written set of policies relating to the rape kit under the provisions of the act. When the results of the rape kit and medical forensic examination are in, then survivors will have a right to be informed unless there are concerns that this may prove detrimental to the investigation process.

The passing of the Act follows a number of concerns that have recently been raised about the way rape kits are processed in the US. According to government estimates, hundreds of thousands of rape kits remain untested. There may be several years in between the collection of evidence and its being tested. Many states place a statute of limitations on sexual assault cases of between three and five years, yet it may take longer than this in some cases for DNA evidence to be processed, meaning that this potentially crucial evidence is not able to be used in the investigation.

According to Jeanne Shaheen, one of the Senators who sponsored the bill, the Sexual Assault Survivors Act “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.”

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