Sexual assault survivors would have a greater opportunity to seek justice and expand their rights under proposed legislation authored by state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and she urged its passage during a bi-partisan news conference in Albany last week.
Simotas’ bill, A8401A, would prevent the premature destruction of rape kits and create a sexual assault survivors bill of rights.
“Mandating the quick processing of rape kits, which we did in 2016, was the first step to ensuring that untested rape kits are not destroyed and ensuring that untested rape kits are not destroyed is the necessary second step,” Simotas said. “Victims must also be informed of their rights and they must have access to information about the status of evidence analysis. This is common decency and common sense.”
If a victim chooses not to make a police report, the hospital that collects the rape kit currently is only required to retain the evidence for 30 days before it can be discarded. This is often not enough time for a traumatized victim to make a decision about moving forward with a criminal complaint.
The bill requires that such “unreported” rape kits be retained for at least 20 years at a centralized, secure storage facility. Amanda Nguyen, a rape survivor and founder of Rise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and furthering the rights of survivors, supports Simotas’ legislation.
“The DNA evidence in a rape kit is both crucial for survivors seeking justice and exonerating the innocent,” she said. “We are hopeful the state of New York will pass this legislation to meet the federal standard — ensuring rape kits will be preserved for 20 years for the 6.6 million survivors in New York.”
The Simotas legislation would also establish a sexual assault survivors’ bill of rights to ensure that victims are informed of their rights under the New York State law, including the right to consult with a rape crisis or victims’ assistance organization; the right to appropriate health care services including a forensic examination; HIV post-exposure therapies and emergency contraception at no cost; and the right to receive updates on their sexual offense evidence kit and any changes in the status of their case.
“Compassion must always be paramount in the law enforcement response to sexual assault victims,” Simotas said.” It’s the right thing to do and it will help lock up dangerous criminals.”
State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) will carry the measure in the upper chamber.
“Making sure survivors’ rights are clearly spelled out and unreported kits are preserved until the person who has been attacked is able to face going forward are an important reform that New York must make. Doing what we can to strengthen the rights of sexual assault survivors and help them feel safe once again is essential.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr