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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: May 17, 2017 12:13 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights
I am introducing legislation that would provide for a comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for survivors of sexual assault.

Rise, a non-profit organization which advocates for survivors of sexual assault, is pushing for every state to adopt a Bill of Rights for Survivors of Sexual Assault. The concern is that the country lacks standard measures for sexual assault victims in reporting assaults, resulting in a patchwork of laws that fail to protect their liberties. Rise states that “some states routinely deny survivors access to their own police reports or refuse to tell survivors the medical results of their rape kit or destroy untested rape kits before the statute of limitations is up.”

In October, the President signed into law the “Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act of 2016”. The federal Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, Public Law 114-236, guarantees basic rights for a sexual assault survivor. The rights include: 1) Not to be prevented from, or charged for, receiving a forensic medical exam; 2) Preserve their rape kit, without charge, for the full statute of limitations or 20 years, whichever is shorter; 3) Be informed of any result of sexual assault evidence kit including DNA matches and toxicology reports; 4) Be informed, in writing, of policies governing the collection and preservation of a sexual assault evidence kit; 5) Upon written request, receive written notice within 60 days of intended destruction or disposal of evidence; 6) Upon written request, be granted further preservation of the kit; and 7) Be informed of these rights.

With passage of the federal law, there is now an effort to get a similar bill of rights law in every state. According to Rise’s website, four states (Washington, Oregon, Virginia and Massachusetts) have passed a version of the law. While the federal law provides basic rights for sexual assault survivors in federal cases (e.g., sex crimes that happen across state lines, in the military), it can also serve as a model for states to adopt to ensure that the same rights/protections are extended to survivors at the state/local level where most sexual assault cases are tried.

My legislation would amend the Sexual Assault & Evidence Collection Act to provide for a more comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for sexual assault survivors. In 2015, the General Assembly amended the Act to include a new section on rights for sexual assault victims. The provision provides a right for victims and their families to disclosure of information about the submission of any evidence for forensic testing, status of any analysis, request to compare DNA profiles and any matches. While it represents a good start, the current rights protected under the Act are very limited as compared to the federal bill of rights. My proposal broadens the current rights for sexual assault survivors to more closely align with those provided under federal law.

The Rise website states “America leads the world in protecting citizens' rights to liberty and equality, yet our country currently lacks baseline procedures for rape survivors depriving millions of Americans basic liberties.” It is estimated by the CDC that there are 25 million current rape survivors. This is nearly equal to the total population of Texas. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports that every 98 seconds another American is sexually assaulted. In Pennsylvania, nearly 3,000 people reported being victims of rape in 2015.

A comprehensive state bill of rights law will help guarantee that survivors of sexual assault have reasonable protections and procedures.

Introduced as SB742