Surviving sexual assault

Groundbreaking Bill on rights of rape survivors passed by the US Congress

The legislation prohibits federal agencies from charging sexual assault victims for a forensic exam, and also lays down rules related to their medical exam kits

The United States Congress on Wednesday night approved a Bill on the rights of rape survivors in the country. The legislation provides a number of rights to those whose rape kits federal law enforcement agencies store and process for investigations. The landmark legislation – praised by rights advocates as groundbreaking – has been sent to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it this week, The Guardian reported.

According to the Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act, rape survivors can request to have their rape kit (evidence from medical examinations) preserved and also seek details of forensic tests. It prohibits federal agencies from charging victims of sexual assaults for a forensic exam. The Bill further states that survivors must be informed at least 60 days before a rape kit is destroyed as the statute of limitations – the maximum period after an event within which legal proceedings can be initiated – in the state expires.

The legislation was introduced in February by the Democrat's Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. She said: "In federal law, there has never been a basic set of rights for survivors of sexual assault... Sexual assault remains one of the most under-reported crimes, and I hope these basic rights make it easier for survivors to come forward and pursue justice."

The Bill was framed after an assault survivor at Harvard University gathered support from a network of volunteers after her unpleasant experience with the criminal justice system. The woman had said, "This is the most comprehensive rape survivors' Bill ever in US history... The fact that we got this done in seven months is amazing. All of our hard work really shows," she said after the Congress passed the Bill in a unanimous voice vote. She now runs an advocacy group to help sexual assault survivors, ABC News reported.

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