Shaheen-Authored Legislation Heads to President Obama’s Desk, Establishes Basic Rights for Survivors of Sexual Assault
**Shaheen’s legislation, co-sponsored by Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Leahy (D-VT), was inspired by a meeting with sexual assault survivor**
(Washington, D.C.) —The Senate unanimously approved final passage of legislation authored by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to establish basic rights for survivors of sexual assault and will now send the bill to President Obama’s desk. The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, also known as the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act of 2016, creates the first federally codified rights specifically for sexual assault survivors, and for the first time would allow survivors the opportunity to enforce those rights in federal court. The groundbreaking legislation was introduced by Shaheen and co-sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in February 2016, 6 months after Shaheen’s staff met with sexual assault survivor Amanda Nguyen. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced counterpart bills in the House. The renamed Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act of 2016 unanimously passed the House earlier this month.
“This is an incredible step forward for survivors of sexual assault, who too often find a justice system that’s working against them, not for them, and I look forward to President Obama signing these basic rights into law,” said Senator Shaheen. “It’s been just over a year since Amanda Nguyen walked into my office recounting the heartbreaking story of what happened after she reported her assault. I’m proud to say that 14 months later, after hard work and collaboration among advocates and across aisles, our groundbreaking bill is heading to the President’s desk. Survivors of sexual assault like Amanda need to know the government and justice system are on their side, and with a unanimous vote in Congress we have sent a strong signal to survivors across the country: we are committed to changing the culture around how survivors will be treated in our criminal justice system. Sexual assault remains one of the most underreported crimes and I sincerely hope that these basic rights make it easier for survivors to come forward and pursue justice. I thank Senators Leahy, Blumenthal and Grassley for all they’ve done to help move this bill through the Senate, and Representatives Wasserman Schultz, Walters and Lofgren who picked up the reins on this legislation and helped secure passage in the House.”
“This bill empowers survivors to seek justice by establishing a set of basic rights to ensure their sensitive and fair treatment in our criminal justice system,” said Senator Blumenthal. “The measure recognizes that reporting sexual assault requires incredible courage, but all too often, brave survivors are blocked from moving forward with their cases when they encounter opaque procedural barriers, or find that evidence was destroyed. I am proud to help lead colleagues on both sides of the aisle in sending legislation that can make a real difference in the lives of sexual assault survivors to the President’s desk for signature.”
“Too often, survivors of sexual assault feel abandoned by our criminal justice system,” said Senator Leahy. “Time and again we have seen how their cases are not taken seriously, how evidence is not preserved or tested in their cases. This is unacceptable to me and to Senator Shaheen. I am proud of the work we have done to ensure their voices are heard through the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and now the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act. I was proud to work with Senator Shaheen on her legislation when it passed in the Senate earlier this year, and I am glad we are building on that progress today.”
Shaheen’s staff worked with Amanda Nguyen and a dozens of nationally-recognized experts in the sexual assault advocacy community on the legislation including National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, RAINN, International Association of Forensic Nurses, National Center for Victims of Crime, National Crime Victim Law Institute, the Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations, and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Said Amanda Grady Sexton, Director of Public Policy for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, “For the first time under federal law, survivors of sexual assault have been given specific legal rights within the criminal justice system. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the U.S., and many victims cite a lack of trust in process as a reason for not reporting. Senator Shaheen's groundbreaking legislation will help to ensure fairness and transparency in the criminal justice system, and will provide survivors with information about their legal rights and options. We hope that other states will join NH in using this act as a model to enhance protections for sexual assault survivors within state laws, and we thank Senator Shaheen for her ongoing leadership on behalf of victims of crime.”
Senator Shaheen has been a leader in the Senate on legislation to establish basic rights and protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. In July, Shaheen introduced legislation, the Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2016, to establish housing protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and set a nationwide standard that survivors cannot be evicted or otherwise denied access to housing for being victims of those crimes. This week, Shaheen introduced the Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing Act to make it easier for victims to bring forward certain cases of sexual harassment in rental housing under the Fair Housing Act