It will be the first time the term “sexual assault survivor” appears in federal code.
President Barack Obama signed legislation Friday creating a “bill of rights” for victims of sexual assault nationwide.
The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act was inspired by Amanda Nguyen, a woman who told Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, her story about having to scramble every six months to prevent police from destroying her rape kit.
“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,” Shaheen said in a statement. “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.”
The new law gives survivors the right to a free medical forensic examination, often referred to as a rape kit, and ensures that the kit is preserved at least until the statute of limitations expires. If an agency wants to dispose of a rape kit, it must provide written notice to the victim at least 60 days in advance, and then continue to preserve the kit if requested by the survivor.
It also requires law enforcement agencies to provide information to survivors about support services and to provide the policies governing their rape kit in writing.
The act was spearheaded by Rise, a nonprofit led by Amanda Nguyen, who became an advocate after her rape almost three years ago when she learned that her rape kit would be destroyed by the state of Massachusetts within six months unless she filed repeated “extension requests.”
“The system essentially makes me live my life by date of rape,” Nguyen told theGuardian in February.
Nguyen then contacted Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who began working with her to craft the bill, eventually introducing it in February. “Beginning today, our nation’s laws stand firmly on the side of survivors of sexual assault,” Shaheen said in a statement Friday. “I hope that these basic rights will encourage more survivors to come forward and pursue justice.”