Survivors often face severe ostracization while trying to seek justice against their perpetrators, from a fear of retaliation to victim blaming from authorities to painful experiences in the courtroom. However, the United States government adopted the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act of 2016 to help combat these issues. This public law protects the best interests of survivors in the courtroom and while they are seeking help.
The History of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act
The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act of 2016 is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation, aiming to protect the rights of survivors of sexual violence across the country. The main goal of this bill is to set federal standards regarding the collection, processing, and testing of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases.
The United States Congress passed this bill unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in September 2016. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law in October 2016.
Since the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act is a federal law, it only applies to cases brought to the federal level, or crimes committed on tribal lands, federal property, or national park land. This law does not apply to the state or county level where the issues often lie.
However, states can and are currently adopting the standards from this bill to create their own survivors’ bill of rights. Some states that have adopted these standards include Massachusetts, Oregon, and Virginia.
What Rights Does the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act Include?
The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act affords survivors with certain rights in regard to sexual assault forensic exam testing. These exams, also known as rape kits, face significant challenges in forensic laboratories across the country.
Often, states have major backlogs of these forensic exams, meaning that many survivors do not see authorities test their kits in a timely manner. In addition, authorities in many states destroy these kits if the survivor takes too long to file his or her claim.
The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act affords new rights and protections regarding rape kit testing that benefit the interests of survivors, including the following.
- Authorities cannot charge survivors for a sexual assault forensic exam.
- Survivors have the right to know the results of their forensic exams.
- Authorities must notify survivors in writing 60 days before they plan to destroy their kits, and survivors have the option to request that the authorities preserve their kits.
- Survivors have the right for the authorities to preserve their kits for the entire applicable statute of limitations.
- State governments who receive federal crime victim grant money must notify survivors of their state rights in writing.
- The federal government will establish a task force for the response and preservation of forensic evidence in sexual assault cases.
Today, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act helps protect the interests of many survivors, but issues still remain at all levels of government. The rape kit backlog is massive, and many survivors are still unable to seek justice due to this pervasive issue. However, many states are continuing to make strong reforms and adopt the principles of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act in their own processes.
If you experience sexual violence, help is available to you. Contact your local sexual violence survivors’ resource organization or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to find resources near you. Once you take the initial steps to seek help, contact a sexual assault attorney with experience in survivors’ advocacy to begin taking legal action.