States Rush to Introduce Sexual-Assault Survivor ‘Bill of Rights’

The #MeToo movement continues via legislative pushes, across both red and blue states, to protect victims of sexual assault.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

In the past month, a handful of states have separately introduced legislation to help protect the rights of sexual-assault survivors through a “bill of rights.”

The surge is a partial answer to the now-frequently asked question: what’s next for the #MeToo movement? Perhaps it’s more legal protections for sexual-assault victims.

The bills are modeled on the federal Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, which was passed by Congress in 2016 and signed by President Obama. The “bill of rights” measures would grant survivors the right to have a rape kit preserved for a full 20 years (or the duration of the statute of limitations), mandate that survivors must be notified of an evidence kit's destruction, and require them to be informed about the results of forensic exams.

Rise, the national nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rights of sexual-assault survivors, helped draft the measures with founder Amanda Nguyen.

The sudden influx comes in the wake of national women’s empowerment movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up—but also as state legislatures themselves have grappled with how to handle the pervasive sexual harassment happening to women lawmakers in the hallowed halls of their statehouses.

States including California, Texas, Florida, Indiana, Ohio—and others all over the country—have been forced to create internal guidelines for curbing harassment in the capitols themselves. Such attention to the movements have apparently inspired the introduction of wider women’s policy issues.

According to the organization, Iowa, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, New York, New Hampshire and West Virginia—states across a wide spectrum of political leanings—have all introduced the sexual-assault survivors’ rights legislation. Rise claims at least nine states have already passed similar bills.

West Virginia’s bill, which was introduced earlier this month, passed the state senate unanimously on Wednesday, according to the Williamson Daily News.

“People are becoming more aware of sexual exploitation of women and sexual misconduct,” said the bills’ sponsor, Democratic Sen. Mike Woelfel. “Rape is such a violent crime; it changes the victim’s life really forever.”

Even with such progress, last week Nguyen condemned what she called New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “insufficient” proposal to lengthen the amount of time New York hospitals are mandated to hold on to rape kits. Hospitals in New York state are only required to retain rape kits for 30 days, what Cuomo’s office says is the shortest in the country.

As a provision of his new 30-point women's agenda, Cuomo has suggested that the law be changed to five years, according to The Auburn Citizen.

“No victim should have to suffer the added pain of lacking the proof she needs to bring her case,” Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa told The Citizen. “We have her back and we will change that law this year.”

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But Nguyen said Cuomo’s proposal, even if successful, is simply not enough.

“Destroying rape kits at 5 years instead of 30 days is not a victory,” she said, contrasting the bill unanimously passed by congress in 2016, which requires the preservation of rape kits for a full 20 years or the duration of the statute of limitations. “Why should New York State rape survivors have fewer rights than other survivors in America? Survivors deserve equality under the law. Justice should not depend on geography.”