Removing the Burden of Cost from Sexual Assault Survivors

When it comes to a woman’s body it seems the entire world is out to make a profit off of it. Women are told what clothes to buy, face creams to use, and what to inject into or remove from their body to achieve the perfect ideal figure. When it comes to more intimate aspects the costs associated with birth control, reproductive health, fertility treatments (i.e. IVF and freezing your eggs), and pap smears and preventative cancer screenings can easily clear the tens of thousands of dollars. The woman’s body is a market ripe for profit – despite the consequences and emotional and physical damage done to it in the process.

Such is the case when it comes to the handling of sexual assault cases and rape kits.

I’m sure many of you out there are unaware of the fact that there currently aren’t any federal rules governing the handling of rape kits and the investigative handling of sexual assault cases. Currently, individual state laws define how cases are handed, rape kits processed, and what types of counseling are available to victims of sexual assault. That is why the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Rights Act is so important.

Passed in the Senate, the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Rights Act is the product of 24 year old Amanda Nguyen, a sexual assault survivor and current White House Deputy Liaison at the state Department, who after struggling through the legal system in Massachusetts following her own rape decided to put advocacy into action. Despite the state’s 15-year statute of limitations for rape, rape kits themselves are destroyed after a six month period unless the victim requests an extension.

For Amanda, “navigating the broken system was worse that the rape itself.”

Through her organization Rise, survivors have reported a laundry list of barriers, including having to pay for their rape kit to get processed and stored, medical examinations, and finding available and affordable sexual assault counseling. It was based on her personal experience as well as realizing that the struggle with the legal system was not hers alone that inspired Amanda to help draft this piece of legislation.

This bill would set new nationwide standards requiring states to preserve rape kits until the statute of limitations expires. It also would ensure that survivors not be charged for medical exams and would be able to inquire about the status of their rape kits to know whether they’d been tested or not and the results of those tests. This point alone cannot be understated as there are tens of thousands of untested and poorly handled and tracked rape kits in America.

Furthermore, under the bill a panel of experts from various medical and legal groups would be established to help craft guidelines for how sexual assault cases are best handled and what protections and help should be afforded to survivors. This group would then regularly interact and advise state medical and law enforcement communities on those best practices.

As it stands, without a clear set of guidelines justice has too often failed when it comes to sexual assault. Not only is the burden of proof that a rape occurred fully leveled on the woman’s shoulders but the costs associated with preserving evidence falls on them as well. This really should be a no-brainer for Congress. The Senate has done their due diligence, and now it falls on the House to do theirs.

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Samantha In London

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