On Friday, President Barack Obama signed a new bill into law, the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Rights Act, which guarantees those who have been sexual assaulted specific rights in order to bring their attackers to justice.
The Act specifies the collection and preservation of forensic evidence, such as rape kits and other evidence from medical examinations following a suspected sexual assault. DNA from this evidence will be entered into state and national databases by police, allowing the identification of assailants in other cases of assault.
More than 100,000 rape kits have been sitting in warehouses and crime labs since 2014, going untested because of lack of funds. Some argue that disregard for the victims plays a part in the lack of attention paid to having the rape kits tested, according to Mother Jones.
The new law is the first of its kind at the federal level, and will allow victims to continue to seek justice through the proper preservation and timely testing of the evidence.
Along with expediting testing and preserving the evidence, the federal law now prevents charging victims for rape kits. It also allows sexual assault survivors to have the evidence collected and tested whether or not they decide to file a police report. This allows frightened victims who may be unsure of whether they desire to pursue charges to have access to evidence should they change their mind at a later date. According to the new federal law, the kits must be preserved, at no cost to the victim, until the state statute of limitation expires. Survivors will also be able to request that they be notified before the kits are destroyed, as well as any DNA profile matches or toxicology reports.
Under the new federal law, victims of sexual assault must be notified of these new rights, whether they choose to file for legal action or not. Included in the law is also the creation of an oversight group that will determine if the new regulations are effective.
The new law was headed by Rise, a nonprofit group that works to ensure rights for the survivors of sexual assault in regards to seeking justice. The group is led by Amanda Nguyen, a State Department employee, who formed Rise after discovering that she would need to file “extension requests” to preserve the rape kit evidence in her own case every six months.
The bill was crafted by Nguyen and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. It was introduced in February and passed unanimously in the House of Representatives in September and passed in the Senate last week.
Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, announced the signing of the new law on Friday.
— Valerie Jarrett (@vj44) October 7, 2016