— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (@SenatorShaheen) October 7, 2016
The groundbreaking law, which began as a bill written by New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in February, offers basic rights and protections to those who come forward to report sexual assault to authorities.
In particular, it seeks to make nationwide changes to the way post-assault forensic medical exams, also known as rape kits, are handled in court. It will also ensure that survivors will not have to pay out of pocket for these exams.
So, what are these rights and how can someone who has suffered from unwanted sexual advances or violence by another person or people access them?
As Sen. Shaheen wrote on Medium after she had drafted the bill, some of these rights include:
- “The right to have a sexual assault evidence collection kit preserved without charge for the entire relevant statute of limitations.
- The right to be notified in writing 60 days prior to the destruction of a sexual assault evidence collection kit.
- The right to request further preservation of a sexual assault evidence collection kit.
- The right to be informed of important results of a sexual assault forensic examination.
- The right to not be charged for a forensic exam.”
But, in order to take advantage of these rights, the sexual assault survivor must come forward and report the violence to police, or someone they trust to help them get the word out to authorities. This step can prove to be very difficult in itself.
The existing system has failed many, but this new law is at least a step toward acknowledging the messy aftermath survivors of sexual assault must deal with. It also guarantees the right to have a sexual assault counselor, if so desired by the survivor.
As Vox noted, this “bill of rights” isn’t going to be very useful for sexual assault or rape survivors in the short term. Since it’s a federal law, it won’t be most effective until individual states adopt these policies into their own legal repertoires.
However, an incentive for states to adopt these policies is now in play. In order for states to continue receiving money from victim crime notification grants, they must ensure that assault survivors are notified of their legal rights. This may be in the form of a handout at the police station or the hospital.
Moreover, the new law doesn’t change anything to the way sexual assault perpetrators are treated by courts.
Simply put, the law will give survivors of sexual assault more rights regarding forensic medical exams and more access to care then they had before. Those who undergo a medical exam after sexual assault will have to be notified prior to the destruction of the test results.
Finally, the law doesn’t aim to deter those committing sexual violence. According to RAINN, one person in the United States is assaulted every 109 minutes.
If you would like to talk to someone about your rights as a sexual assault survivor, or get information for a loved one, RAINN offers a 24/7 toll-free hotline on 800-656-4673. Their site also lists survivor rights and the definitions of rape according to your state and zip code.
A sad matter of fact is that rape culture is so prevalent here, the government can only offer a Band-Aid instead of a real solution addressing the root of the problem. At least, this is a start.