By Senator Jeanne Shaheen
On October 7th, 2016, just over a year after my initial meeting with sexual assault survivor Amanda Nguyen, my legislation to establish basic rights for survivors of sexual assault was signed into law by President Obama. The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, also known as the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act of 2016, creates the first federally codified rights specifically for sexual assault survivors, and for the first time would allow survivors the opportunity to enforce those rights in federal court. Today I can say with certainty that our nation’s laws stand firmly on the side of sexual assault survivors. The basic rights in this new law 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.
While the journey to pass this groundbreaking legislation was a relatively short one, it follows a long path of survivors and advocates calling for change in our system. And when Amanda Nguyen walked into my office last summer and shared her heartbreaking story, I knew that changes had to be made to ensure the justice system was on survivors’ side. So, we got to work on legislation and with input from Amanda Nguyen and dozens of nationally-recognized experts in the sexual assault advocacy community, we developed a bill that garnered incredible bipartisan and bicameral support, shuttling it all the way to the President’s desk.
Amidst the partisan bickering and gridlock in Congress, this law demonstrates that citizens can still effect positive change and that bipartisan progress is still possible. Sexual assault remains one of the most underreported crimes and I hope that these basic rights will encourage more survivors to come forward and pursue justice. Make no mistake, there’s still much more work to be done to change the culture around sexual assault, and I will continue to lead efforts in the Senate for survivors like Amanda.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, is a U.S. Senator from New Hampshire.
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