DC Council Passes First Vote on Sexual Assault Reforms

From a press release:

“The DC Justice for Survivors Campaign (DC JSC) is elated that today DC Council took the first of two votes to pass the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2013 (SAVRAA), landmark legislation to improve how the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) handles sexual assault cases and treat survivors of sexual assault.

“This is a monumental step in both supporting survivors of sexual assault and improving DC’s sexual assault response system,” said Julia Strange, DC JSC organizer and Director of Programs and Policy for Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS). “This legislation means that those who report sexual assault in the District can expect that their cases will be followed through as efficiently as possible, and that they will be treated with fairness and respect,” added Sherelle Hessell-Gordon, DC JSC organizer and Executive Director of the DC Rape Crisis Center.

The final version of the bill passed by DC Council includes all criteria for which the DC JSC mobilized support. In full, the legislation: 1) Grants sexual assault survivors the right to have a sexual assault victim advocate present during hospital forensic exams and in subsequent in-person police interviews; 2) Mandates the prompt processing of rape kits; 3) Provides sexual assault survivors the right to the results of their rape kits and toxicology tests; 4) Mandates that an independent consultant make semi-annual public reports on progress that MPD makes in implementing reforms; 5) Codifies DC’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and requires it to conduct case review; 6) Requires an annual report on sexual assault from agencies that handle cases and evidence; 7) Establishes a task force to recommend further reform to the system, including additional roles for advocates, an effective system for complaints and juvenile sexual assault system reforms.

The DC JSC, a survivor-led grassroots coalition, has been working for over a year not to only to pass, but also to strengthen SAVRAA. The coalition, formed by Collective Action for Safe Spaces, (CASS), the DC Rape Crisis Center and DC NOW, was established in response to evidence of police mismanagement of sexual assault cases in the District. The DC JSC is comprised of 23 organizations and over 400 individual community members. Over the past months, DC JSC members consulted with policy experts, collected hundreds of signatures in support of SAVRRA’s urgently-needed reforms, met with DC Councilmembers and testified at the December 2013 DC Council Hearing on the legislation, including sharing heart wrenching stories of their experiences of reporting sexual assault to MPD.

“Passing legislation that codifies the rights of survivors of sexual assault sends a powerful message to survivors that our community leaders care about their rights and are working to protect them,” said Susan Mottet, DC JSC organizer and President of the National Organization for Women, DC Chapter (DC NOW). “This bill was a survivor-driven advocacy effort, and we thank the brave men and women who testified and shared their stories,” said DC JSC organizer Marisa Ferri. “We’re encouraged that the passage of SAVRAA, especially along with DC JSC’s amendments, will help ensure that survivors who report their assault can begin the process of healing and obtaining justice.”

The Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act will be voted on again and then passed onto the Mayor to be signed into law.”

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