A bill that would protect the rights of sexual assault victims has passed the U.S. Senate with unanimous support. The measure, which was co-sponsored by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, focuses primarily on rape kits.
Rape kits, or sexual assault kits, contain evidence gathered after a forensic examination of a rape survivor. They are vital for investigators and prosecutors when trying a suspected assailant, or exonerating someone wrongly accused of assault.
Each state currently has its own set of rules regarding the storage, testing, and tracking of rape kits. Some states destroy the kits before the statute of limitations runs out on the crime, or require survivors to request in writing every six months that their rape kit be preserved.
Survivors in 13 states said they were wrongly billed by hospitals for forensic exams and rape kits.
"Reporting sexual assault requires incredible courage, and too often the system fails them," said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who introduced the legislation along with New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.
Blumenthal said survivors of sexual assault deserve better.
"They find that vital evidence was destroyed without their consent," he said, "or encounter byzantine procedural barriers to justice. That's wrong."
The Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act would guarantee that rape kits are preserved until the statute of limitations expires, and that survivors are not charged.
The measure also ensures that survivors are notified in writing 60 days before the kit is to be destroyed, and be informed of the results when the rape kit is tested.
The bill is now headed to the House of Representatives for a vote.