The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights has received unanimous approval from both the Senate and the House of Representatives—and is now headed to President Obama’s desk. He is expected to sign the legislation, crafted by a survivor from Massachusetts, into law.
The Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights would instate policies that give survivors more control over the reporting process and ensure smoother handling of sexual assault cases by law enforcement officials. Survivors won’t be charged for the costs of their rape kits, will receive information about the status and results of their rape examination and are guaranteed the right to obtain a copy of their police report. Law enforcement officials will be required to contact survivors 60 days prior to the scheduled disposal of their rape kits.
However, more still needs to be done to protect and assist survivors of sexual assault. The legislation only extends to cases that are prosecuted in federal courts or that occur on federal property—but the majority of sexual assault cases are tried at the state level. Moreover, although the legislation gives survivors more information about their rape kits, it fails to address the nationwide backlog of about 40,000 untested kits—and the difficulty many survivors face in reporting their assault or being administered a rape kit in the first place.
Findings from Rocky Mountain PBS, for example, suggest that only a small number of schools and universities make rape kits readily accessible at campus health centers. According to their results, four institutions out of 100 that U.S. News and World Report ranked as top colleges offered the exam. There’s no existing statute under Title IX stating that university health centers need to supply kits or to employ a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certified to administer the examination.
An anonymous survivor recently penned an op-ed piece in The Harvard Crimson describing her attempt to find an official to administer a rape kit. In order to undergo the procedure and collect crucial evidence, the op-ed writer had to travel to a hospital in the city. Advocates and experts have expressed concern that forcing survivors to travel far distances to a facility that actually offers the exam may discourage victims and survivors from taking further action.
While the passage and potential enactment of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights represent a monumental step forward, the fight against rape culture is far from over. There are many steps left—and this fight requires attention and action from law enforcement officials, healthcare professionals and even campus faculty across the country. As we celebrate this imminent victory, we must continue to push for policies that dismantle obstacles to justice for all survivors.