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Shaheen, Grassley bill to support sexual assault survivors signed into law

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Chair of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced that their bipartisan legislation – the Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act – was signed into law as part of the fiscal year (FY) 2023 national defense authorization legislation. The FY 2023 federal government funding legislation provided $10 million to launch the program under the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).

In 2016, Shaheen led the effort to pass the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, which was signed into law by President Obama. The historic legislation guaranteed rights for survivors of sexual assault in federal cases and led to 21 states adopting similar legislation, including New Hampshire. The bipartisan Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act builds on the legacy of Shaheen’s initial legislation by ensuring that all survivors, not just those in federal cases, are protected.

“Sexual assault survivors shouldn’t be further traumatized by their experience by having to jump through hoops to seek justice. That’s why I worked with Senator Grassley to usher this bipartisan legislation through Congress to create a more uniform criminal justice system that more comprehensively supports survivors by incentivizing states to codify and standardize survivor rights,” said Shaheen. “I was proud to lead the landmark legislation at the federal level that became law in 2016, and I’m equally as proud of Democrats in New Hampshire who followed my lead to match that commitment at our state level. Now that my bill with Senator Grassley is law, other states will have the resources necessary to follow New Hampshire in implementing survivors’ rights, ensure accountability and strengthen our justice system.”

“Survivors of sexual assault deserve support and certainty that they will continue to be protected while their perpetrators are held accountable,” said Grassley. “This legislation encourages states to adopt and apply the same standard of protection across the country by providing essential forensic kits to help deliver justice. I’m grateful to have partnered with Sen. Shaheen and Ms. Nguyen to get this critical law on the books.”

“Sexual assault survivors deserve access to justice no matter what state they live in,” said Amanda Nguyen, founder and CEO of Rise. “We are grateful to Senators Grassley and Shaheen for their leadership on this issue, for centering survivors throughout this process, and for continuing to push these critical measures forward.

The Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act encourages states to ensure that survivors have, at minimum, the rights guaranteed to them under federal law. States that provide these rights would be eligible for additional federal funding equivalent to a percentage of the formula funding that they already receive under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) STOP grant program from the DOJ. These rights include:

The right not to be prevented from, or charged for, receiving a medical forensic examination.

The right to have a sexual assault evidence collection kit or its probative contents preserved without charge for the statutory limitations period or 20 years, whichever is shorter.

The right to be informed of results of a sexual assault evidence collection kit.

The right to be informed in writing of policies governing the kit’s collection and preservation.

The right, if the government intends to destroy or dispose of the kit, to receive written notice not later than 60 days before the date of the intended destruction or disposal, and the right, upon written request, to have the kit preserved.

As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the OVW, Shaheen spearheads efforts to protect survivors and help them seek justice. In the new FY 2023 government funding law, for the sixth year in a row, Shaheen successfully secured the highest funding level ever for the DOJ-administered VAWA grants programs, totaling $700 million for the OVW. This is a 22 percent increase from last year’s funding level and will support training officials, rape prevention programs, processing rape kits, domestic violence hotlines, women’s shelters and transitional housing support services. Funding is provided for newly authorized programs covered under the VAWA Act 2022 reauthorization, including $5 million for the Abby Honold Act, which establishes a grant program to provide trauma informed training to law enforcement so officers can improve their response to sexual assault survivors, and $15 million for the restorative justice grant program. The FY 2023 federal government funding law also provides $10 million to jumpstart Senator Shaheen’s Survivors’ Bill of Rights incentive program, which encourages states to ensure that sexual assault survivors have the same rights guaranteed to survivors under federal law, including not being charged for a medical forensic exam and being informed of results of a sexual assault evidence collection kit. Last month, Senator Shaheen’s bipartisan POWER 2.0 Act with Senator Sullivan (R-AK) to reauthorize legislation that expands pro bono legal resources for victims and survivors was signed into law.