A “bill of rights” for rape survivors has been signed into law by President Barack Obama. The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act passed the House in September, and the senators took it up and approved it last week.
A very rare thing in Washington these days, the bill was praised by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden. Obama signed the bill on Friday – just days prior, the White House launched a new initiative to help very young assault survivors – students in kindergarten through grade 12.
In April, Biden, who pushed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, teamed up with Lady Gaga, who is a sexual assault survivor for the “It’s On Us” campaign. The politician and the pop diva’s initiative toured colleges asking students and administrators to support those who were abused on campuses.
This bill is a victory for many rape victims including Amanda Nguyen, who was sexually assaulted and devoted her life to helping others who suffered the same abuse. Nguyen, 24, is the founder of Rise, an organization that fights to obtain legal protection for sexual assault survivors.
Nguyen, who is the current Deputy White House Liaison at the State Department, was raped in 2013 while in Massachusetts. The bright young woman contacted the authorities and did a rape kit and was told that she had 15 years to decide whether she wanted to press charges.
However, she rapidly encountered a major problem – if she did not file an extension, the rape kit that contained evidence against the person who assaulted her, would have been destroyed in six months. Nguyen said she had to jump through hoops to keep track of where the kit had been, and who was examining it.
Moreover, sometimes she had to catch a plane to see an official, who demanded that she be there in person to request the extension. She stated that she was reliving the assault every time she had to send an email, make a call, or sit down with authorities who were handling her case.
Her experience made her strong, and she took it upon herself to contact several politicians and push them to write a bill that would better manage the matter. In 2015, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ann Wagner introduced House Resolution 230. 51 other Republicans and Democrats joined them.
Thanks to the sexual assault “bill of rights,” survivors in all 50 states can request preservation of the kits throughout the maximum statute of limitations and “must be notified 60 days in advance before the destruction of the kit.” It is also against the law to make a man or a woman who was violated pay for the rape kits. Nguyen, who is training to be an astronaut, explained why she fought for this bill:
“No state has comprehensive civil rights protections for survivors. Two sexual assault survivors shouldn’t have two completely different sets of rights, just because they are in two different states. For example, some survivors have reported having to pay for their rape kit and associated medical treatments, resulting in creditors calling survivors at their home or place of work, often retraumatizing them. Additionally, although therapist-patient privilege is universal, only some states have adopted some form of sexual assault counselor-survivor privilege in their evidence code.”
“If a survivor chooses not to report an assault to the police or refuses to go to trial, no state guarantees all of her legal rights as a crime victim will be protected. This means that all states essentially force survivors to do something against their will, after they have already been assaulted against their will.”
There are over 25 million sexual assault survivors in America who may benefit from this law.