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Obama Expected To Sign Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill Of Rights Into Law


President Obama will soon receive something unusual, legislation that passed both houses of Congress unanimously called the Survivors' Bill of Rights.


It applies to sexual assault cases tried in federal courts, crimes committed in national parks or on tribal lands or in federal property. Still, the sponsors of the bill hope it will be a model for state laws. An activist who played a key part in getting that bill passed is Amanda Nguyen. She came in to tell us more.

AMANDA NGUYEN: It includes really non-controversial basic things like the right to have your evidence not be destroyed before the statute of limitations, access to medical results from the rape kit or forensic examination and the right to receive a copy of your own police report, the right to be notified of what your rights are in that state because your rights can vary from state to state.

MONTAGNE: And you use the words basic non-controversial...


MONTAGNE: ...And rights themselves actually, so, you know, that all suggests this would be common.

NGUYEN: That's right.

MONTAGNE: But they are not. Many states do not observe...

NGUYEN: Have them - that's right.

MONTAGNE: ...These guidelines.

NGUYEN: So the real issue here at the heart of this is that survivors in America do not have access to equality under the law. In my case, I was raped in Massachusetts, and Massachusetts destroys untested rape kits at six months, even if the statute of limitations is 15 years if you do not press charges. And that is not the case for California, Texas, Colorado. And, literally, if I was raped in these other states, I would either be afforded these rights or would have legal recourse if my kit was destroyed.

MONTAGNE: Let me ask you, though - I mean, I think there will be people thinking as terrible as it is to proceed with a rape case, is the idea that one should be able to choose?

NGUYEN: Yeah. Every case is so personal - the choice to go forward. I'll just talk about my experience. My exam was six-hours long. And I walked out of the hospital feeling so alone. And I immediately called legal resources, advocacy centers to try to find out where do I go from here. And one of my calls - this woman on the other line, she had said, you know, just to be honest with you, a rape trial lasts on average two years and be ready to sacrifice, you know, two years of your life for it.

And I had to hang up the phone then. I was fighting so hard to graduate Harvard, and I did not want a rapist to stand in my way. And then from police officers, I learned there's a 15-year statute of limitations which gives me the option of pursuing justice through the criminal justice system at a point in time when I'm ready. And I decided that this is a route that I wanted to take. And, unfortunately, in Massachusetts, the six-month rule then comes into play that my evidence could be destroyed. And, in fact, I still am fighting for it.

MONTAGNE: There is a backlog - a serious backlog...

NGUYEN: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...Of rape kits. Were these guidelines accepted by states, this would add to the backlog. So, obviously, that's not the only issue here. The other issue that victims have decried is that these rape kits are not being used to track down possible attackers.

NGUYEN: I would phrase it as I wish my kit would make it into backlog. And it is a civil rights issue because other crimes are not treated this way. You know, one of the rights that's in the bill is the right to be given a copy of your police report if you ask for it. If your bike was stolen and you asked for a copy of your police report, in what world would you be denied it? And, similarly, you know, evidence that is collected for a crime - for a violent crime should not be destroyed and should be processed in a timely manner.

MONTAGNE: Amanda Nguyen, thank you very much for joining us.

NGUYEN: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

MONTAGNE: Amanda Nguyen is the founder of Rise, which advocates for victims of sexual abuse. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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