With just a few months left in his term as president, Obama signed an historic bill into law that greatly benefits rape survivors. The Sexual Assault Survivor’s Act, signed on Friday, addresses how rape kits are handled and how survivors are notified of actions involved in their case’s evidence.
The Act combines existing state laws to help ensure that rape survivors know where their evidence is currently located, whether or not it has been tested, and the results of those tests. Prior to the new legislation, laws on how rape kits were handled and instructions for gathering evidence were murky at best.
In some cases, rape victims are charged for the exam following sexual assault. While federal law mandates that sexual assault victims not be billed for forensic exams and medical care, medical guidelines go beyond the guidelines of the law at times. In this case, the “who pays what” scenario varies from state to state. The new law also resolves this issue.
Under the new legislation, rape kits must be kept up to each state’s maximum limits, or 20 years if no limit is in place. Victims must now be notified 60 days before their evidence, or rape kit, is destroyed. Kits often include fluid samples, fibers and hairs collected from the victim shortly after the incident. The written notification allows victims to protest the destruction of the evidence.
At the center of the bill is Amanda Nguyen, a 24-year-old rape survivor. Nguyen was raped in 2013 and submitted a rape kit to Massachusetts state. By law, she had 15 years to make a decision on whether to pursue legal action, but the state threatened to destroy the evidence after just six months unless a request for an extension was filed.
Nguyen also had difficulty getting a clear answer on where her evidence was being stored. She was also forced to physically return to Massachusetts every six months to ensure the evidence was not destroyed.