On Friday October 7, 2016, President Obama signed into law the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, which guarantees specific rights to survivors of sexual assault. The driving force behind this Act was led by Rise, a civil rights nonprofit organization founded by Amanda Nguyen, a sexual assault survivor herself. Given her own struggles to prevent authorities from destroying her rape kit after a certain amount of time, Nguyen felt that something needed to be done to protect the rights of sexual assault victims.
Until now, many sexual assault survivors have experienced obstacles in their attempt to receive a rape kit examination, as well as frustration with the process that follows. The kit itself consists of a medical examination conducted by trained healthcare professionals to collect and preserve forensic evidence following a sexual assault. Survivors have been burdened with fees, as well as kits that were never examined due to lack of government funds. Some kits were destroyed without prior notification or permission, potentially causing the loss of information that could have resulted in some glimmer of justice.
According to a February 2016 interview with the Guardian, Nguyen was sexually assaulted in October 2014, went through a rape kit examination, and submitted the evidence to Massachusetts. Massachusetts law states that a survivor has 15 years to pursue legal action. However, Nguyen recounts that a pamphlet she received while at the hospital said that she would have to file an extension request if she wanted her test to be preserved for longer than six months, after which time it would be destroyed.
With just the aforementioned information in hand, Nguyen had to do some digging in order to figure out how to file such an extension. To this day, she repeats this process of requesting another extension every six months. Such experiences helped to inspire Nguyen to take action, for herself and for other survivors.
“The system essentially makes me live my life by date of rape,” said Nguyen.
As reported by Mother Jones, the recently passed measure focuses on the collection and preservation of rape kits, ensuring that survivors will not be charged for or be prevented from getting a rape kit examination, even if they have yet to decide whether or not to pursue legal action. Additionally, once the examination has been completed, the kits must be preserved until the applicable statute of limitations runs out, at no cost to the survivor.
Survivors will also be able to request that authorities notify them before destroying their rape kits, with an option of requesting that they continue to be preserved. The measure goes further in guaranteeing survivors the right to be notified of the examination results, including a DNA profiling match and toxicology report. Regardless of whether or not the survivor decides to pursue legal action, they must be informed of their rights.
Nguyen reached out to Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to help bring her vision to fruition. “Sexual assault remains one of the most underreported crimes and I hope that these basic rights will encourage more survivors to come forward and pursue justice,” said Shaheen in a statement regarding the Act.
In a statement to Buzzfeed news, Nguyen said: “At the heart of this is a deep belief of equality under the law and making sure that when survivors do choose to engage with the justice system that they are met with something that is fair.”
With advocates like Nguyen and Shaheen, we can hope that survivors are met with a justice system that works with them in the aftermath of a sexual assault, rather than having them feel as though it’s against them.
Along with these new rights for survivors, BuzzFeed news reports that the law also calls for “a working group run by the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of health and human services to develop and disseminate to local agencies the best practices for preservation of forensic evidence and treatment of survivors.”
“Half of the battle was getting these civil rights codified, the other half is making sure there is implementation on the ground and enforcement of these rights,” Nguyen told BuzzFeed News.
Nguyen said that she and Rise are going to continue working on reforms at the state level in an effort to improve how law enforcement handles sexual assaults.
“I could accept injustice or rewrite the law,” Nguyen said. “I chose rewriting the law.”
For more information regarding the prevention of sexual harassment and misconduct, visit CampusClarity’s home page.