Shaheen, Blumenthal & Leahy Introduce Sexual Assault Survivors Rights Legislation in the Senate

The Sexual Assault Survivors Act will improve the care and treatment of sexual assault survivors, and empower them to pursue justice

February 23, 2016

(Washington, DC)—Today, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), introduced legislation that codifies basic rights for survivors of sexual assault. The Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act builds on the success of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act 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 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. The authors of this legislation worked closely with Rise, a national nonprofit, led by Amanda Nguyen, a sexual assault survivor who has bravely shared her harrowing experience with the criminal justice system.

“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,” said Shaheen. “We have to do better.  Our goal with this legislation is to change the culture around how sexual assault survivors are treated in our criminal justice system.  We have to create an environment where survivors feel like the system is working for them, not against.  Amanda and other brave survivors like her, have worked hard to put these issues on the nation’s agenda and now it’s time for Congress to take action.”

“When a survivor of sexual assault engages the criminal justice system, she must be secure in her rights and empowered to make informed decisions,” Blumenthal said. “Reporting sexual assault requires incredible courage -- and the system must be worthy of that bravery. Too often, survivors are not told what is happening in their cases, find that vital evidence was destroyed without their consent, or encounter byzantine procedural barriers to justice. This bill represents an important step toward a system that mirrors unsparing prosecution of people who commit these heinous offenses with sensitive, consistent, and fair treatment of survivors.”

“Too often, survivors of sexual assault feel abandoned by our criminal justice system,” said 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. I am proud of the work we have done to ensure their voices are heard through the Debbie Smith Act, the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and now the Sexual Assault Survivors Rights Act.  Survivors of sexual assault must be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

“Justice for sexual assault survivors should not depend on geography,” said Amanda Nguyen, founder and president of Rise. “This federal Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, which brings together common sense best practices, is the first step to having uniform basic rights for survivors across the country.”

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.

The bill text is available here.