POLITICS

If The Senate Can Agree On One Thing, It's Basic Rights For Rape Survivors

A rare moment of bipartisanship brings the nation closer to much-needed help for sexual assault victims.

The Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve legislation enacting new rights for rape survivors.

The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), would provide sexual assault victims a right to be informed about the results of forensic testing of their rape kit, and the right to have their kit preserved free of charge until the relevant state’s statute of limitations has expired. 

Amanda Nguyen, the 24-year-old founder of a nonprofit called Rise, lobbied Shaheen to introduce the bill. Nguyen was sexually assaulted in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and currently has to officially request every six months that her rape kit not be destroyed, although the statute of limitations in the state is 15 years. 

“It’s been 10 months now since Amanda Nguyen first walked into my office,” Shaheen said in a statement. “The system failed Amanda and so many other survivors of sexual assault across the country. Today, the Senate has sent a message that it’s time to change the culture around how survivors are treated in our criminal justice system.”

In a separate statement, Nguyen urged the House to pass the legislation because it “will have a profound impact on the lives of the more than 25 million survivors of sexual assault across the U.S.”

Watch Shaheen’s speech about the bill on the Senate floor Monday:

Shaheen's legislation was tacked onto the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act, a bill to provide federal funding to improve the tracking of sex offenders through state registries. Her proposal would also set up a working group established by the attorney general and secretary of Health and Human Services to coordinate and disseminate best practices on the care and treatment of sexual assault survivors and related forensic evidence.

The bill is endorsed by the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, International Association of Forensic Nurses, Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations, Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Separate legislation introduced in the House urges states to adopt their own laws providing sexual violence victims the right to prompt testing of a rape kit, and the right to a counselor or advocate. The House resolution simply urges states to do so, but does not create any right as the Senate bill does. 

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Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter who covers sexual violence and is based in New York. You can reach him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com, or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

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