If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you may have certain rights afforded to you. In 2016, the United States federal government passed the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, a landmark piece of legislation that establishes rights for survivors of sexual assault and rape.
These rights apply to federal sexual assault cases and may apply to state sexual assault cases if the state in question adopted this legislation. California, for example, has established a set of rights for survivors of sexual assault under Penal Code 679.04. Sexual assaults are complex and self-advocacy is important throughout the process. It is important to remain aware of these rights to protect yourself and your interests.
Your Legal Rights After Sexual Assault
You have multiple legal pathways available to you after an assault. You have the right to call 911 and report the crime to law enforcement. You also have the right to seek a protective order in accordance with your state’s laws. You can pursue criminal charges and a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator of the assault concurrently.
You also have the right to decline a criminal investigation into your case, and you do not have to seek a forensic medical exam if you do not want to. If you are unsure whether to press charges, however, you should seek an exam immediately after the assault and ask the examiner to preserve your kit.
Your Forensic Medical Exam Rights
One of the most important steps to take after a sexual assault is to receive a forensic medical exam. During the exam, a trained forensic nurse will collect various pieces of evidence to use in a future criminal case if you choose to press charges against the perpetrator. You can choose to store the exam until you decide to proceed with your case, although some states will dispose of your exam after a certain period of time.
Under the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, you have the right to obtain one of these exams and no one should prevent you from seeking one. The exam should be free, and no one should charge you to receive one. You also have the right to have the forensic lab store your kit until the applicable statute of limitations passes.
The Survivors’ Bill of Rights also states that you have the right to be informed of any results of the forensic exam and the policies of the forensic exam collection and preservation. Before the lab disposes of the exam, the law also states that you should receive written notification no later than 60 days beforehand. You also have the right to extend the preservation period.
Your Right to an Advocate
The criminal justice process can be retraumatizing for a survivor; obtaining forensic exams, testifying in court, and facing the perpetrator during trial are emotionally difficult experiences. In some states, you may have the right to have a sexual assault advocate with you during these processes.
A sexual assault advocate is a trained professional who provides support for survivors after an assault. To find an advocate in your area, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
If you are the victim of a sexual assault, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. Immediately after the assault, call the hotline or 911 for police assistance. Seek medical attention and obtain a forensic medical exam as soon as possible.
After you take these steps, seek help from a sexual assault attorney. Your sexual assault lawyer can explain the rights, laws, and legal options available to you in your state.