What Rights Do I Have as a Sexual Assault Survivor?
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What Rights Do I Have as a Sexual Assault Survivor?

Sexual assault is a heinous crime that can lead to significant emotional, financial, and physical damage. The aftermath of an assault can be disorienting and scary – and during this time, survivors of sexual assault often feel unsure of their rights and options. However, the justice system does afford survivors certain rights following an assault – and if you are a survivor, you can exercise these to seek justice with the help of a sexual abuse attorney.

The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights

In October 2016, the United States federal government enacted the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act. The purpose of this bill is to afford survivors of sexual assault who are involved in federal criminal cases a certain set of rights through the legal process. Survivors of sexual assault require a special level of care and understanding, which lawmakers and law enforcement officers have not always provided in previous cases.

To qualify for these rights, your case must be in a federal court system or you must have experienced the assault in a national park, on tribal lands, in Washington D.C., or on federal property.

As a survivor of sexual assault, you have the following protections under the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act.

  • You have the right to receive a free sexual assault forensic exam after the assault. The hospital or clinic should not charge you for this service.
  • You have the right to learn about the results of any testing that your health care provider performs when giving you the forensic medical exam.
  • The hospital or clinic must notify you in writing at least 60 days prior to destroying or preserving your forensic medical exam kit.
  • You have the right to preserve your kit for the duration of the entire statute of limitations. You do not have to file a police report immediately.
  • All states who receive federal crime victim grant dollars must notify survivors of these rights in writing.

In addition, you have the right to attend and be present at any criminal justice proceedings involving your case. Each step of the way, you have the right for medical professionals, law enforcement officers, and other individuals involved in your case to treat you with fairness, respect, dignity, and sensitivity.

Receiving a Forensic Medical Exam After an Assault

As soon as possible after the assault, it is important to visit a hospital or clinic near you that offers sexual assault forensic medical exams. Make sure to preserve all pieces of evidence from the crime – do not change your clothes, take a shower, or wash your hands.

Trained forensic medical exam professionals will then use the forensic exam kit to collect certain pieces of evidence from you. You may have to give swabs from your skin, fingernails, and other areas where the examiner may find a trace of DNA.

The hospital cannot require you to report the crime to law enforcement if you are a legal adult and do not wish to do so. You can request that the hospital preserve the exam in case you wish to report in the future.

Filing Civil and Criminal Charges Against the Perpetrator

As a survivor of sexual assault, you have the right to pursue legal action against the perpetrator. You can file both civil and criminal charges against him or her. Each type of legal action provides different benefits to you, and you have the right to pursue both pathways.

Criminal prosecution involves bringing you and the perpetrator against a jury, and the purpose of criminal charges is to punish the perpetrator. Jail time, fines, and community service are common penalties in criminal cases. However, these cases do not always provide enough compensation for the survivor.

You can also file a civil lawsuit for a sexual assault, even if the perpetrator is facing criminal charges or is already carrying out a criminal sentence. By filing a lawsuit, you can claim compensation for medical expenses, emotional damages, and other losses you sustained as a result of the assault. The purpose of civil settlements is to provide financial support directly to the survivor.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you do have the right to file both criminal and civil charges against the perpetrator and to receive medical attention without having to go to the police. However, filing charges can help you seek the justice you need to recover. Contact an attorney who works with survivors of sexual assault as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.