The fight to bring rapists to justice is often stalled when necessary forensic evidence gets caught in the current system's rape kit backlog. Too often, those rape kits go untested. Congress is now taking historic action to make sure that the ability to gather and preserve physical evidence from sexual assault is accessible and affordable for all survivors.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 399-0 to pass the Survivor's Bill of Rights Act of 2016. The new law grants sexual assault survivors in criminal cases the right to access and preserve rape evidence collection kits for the duration of the maximum statue of limitations.
According to the bill's language, all survivors would have the right to know the forensic exam results without being charged fees for the kit. Similarly, these same rights would be extended to survivors who choose not to press charges. All survivors would also be eligible to receive protective orders and victim compensation.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) became inspired to advocate for the change after speaking with a trio of sexual assault survivors in May.
Lofgren's co-sponsor, Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), introduced the bill with her congressional colleague to establish a national system to protect all survivors across the country. Each state has its own laws regarding sexual assault, some of which might contradict those of other jurisdictions.
"The uneven patchwork of laws across the country and the lack of substantive rights for sexual assault survivors prevent them from having full access to the justice system," Walters said, according to The Hill. "Survivors of sexual assault have faced unspeakable trauma, and they should not face unnecessary barriers to justice."
The Senate unanimously passed a similar bill in May. Both bills will be reconciled in the congressional conference committee before being signed into law by President Obama.
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