In Nashua, Shaheen Discusses Effort to Empower Survivors of Sexual Assault

**Roundtable discussion follows her introduction of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act**

March 11, 2016

Nashua, NH—Today in Nashua, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) held a roundtable discussion on ways to empower sexual assault survivors in the criminal justice system. Senator Shaheen heard from representatives of Bridges, a nonprofit agency dedicated to helping victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence (NHCADSV), the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Program (SANE) and the Nashua Police. Last month, Senator Shaheen introduced the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, legislation that would establish a code of rights to address the unique challenges faced by sexual assault survivors and serve as a federal model for reform efforts in states across the country. Currently, survivors face a daunting patchwork of laws from state to state.

“Today’s discussion was an invaluable opportunity to hear firsthand from those in the Granite State who work with sexual assault survivors every day,” said Shaheen. “The goal of my legislation is to change the culture around how sexual assault survivors are treated in our criminal justice system. Across the country, efforts are underway to reform state and local policies so that survivors feel like the system is working for them, not against. We need a standardized, transparent process that reassures survivors that they will be supported and protected as they pursue justice."

“We believe that no victim of sexual assault should be traumatized by the very systems that have been set up to assist them in the aftermath of an assault,” said Lyn Schollett, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “Only when victims have timely and accurate information about the evidence in their case can they make fully informed decisions. This legislation will help empower victims as they face the difficult decision of whether to move forward in the criminal justice system.  We are humbled by Senator Shaheen’s commitment to survivors and her leadership on this issue.”

While New Hampshire is recognized for having progressive policies for the treatment and care of sexual assault survivors, there is still room for improvement. The Granite State currently does not have a codified list of rights to address unique issues faced by sexual assault survivors. 

The Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act builds on the success of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2004 to address unique challenges faced by sexual assault survivors, particularly regarding notice, access, and preservation of sexual assault evidence collection kits.  The bill would empower survivors to make more informed decisions throughout the criminal justice process by supporting state efforts to better notify survivors of available resources as well as applicable state rights and policies.  Finally, the bill would establish a joint Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services working group to more effectively implement best practices regarding the care and treatment of survivors across the country.

Currently, depending on the jurisdiction, sexual assault survivors often experience a complex and cryptic maze of policies that deter them from pursuing justice.

Some key rights established by the bill include:

  • The right to have a sexual assault evidence collection kit preserved for the entire relevant statute of limitations.
  • The right to be notified in writing 60 days prior to the destruction of a sexual assault evidence collection kit.
  • The right to request further preservation of a sexual assault evidence collection kit.
  • The right to be informed of important results of a sexual assault forensic examination.

The bill has been endorsed by RAINN, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations (CFSO), NH Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the VT Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Senator Shaheen’s legislation has received national attention and was written with the input of Amanda Nguyen, a sexual assault survivor. The bill text is available here.