Mayor proposes amendment to expand sexual assault survivors’ rights

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed an amendment last month to add new protections to a preexisting law on the legal and financial rights of sexual assault survivors.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is moving to increase protections for sexual assault survivors and prevent instances of sexual violence in the District.

Bowser proposed to add new protections to a preexisting law on the legal and financial rights of survivors last month. The amendment would mandate that prosecutors provide a reason to the survivor for why they would not prosecute a case, require anyone to ask for consent before removing clothing and provide a sexual assault advocate to guide anyone who is 12 years old or older through the reporting process.

The amendment to a 2014 bill will likely head to the D.C. Council Committee of the Judiciary and Public Safety hearing before the Council goes on summer recess July 12.

The amendment is a part of the District’s push for sexual assault reform in the city that began in 2013, Michelle Garcia, the director of the mayor’s Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants, said. The office will focus on passing the amendment before looking at future steps, she said.

“When crime victims and survivors feel supported, they are more likely to stay engaged with the criminal justice system,” she said. “So one of the likely outcomes is that we might actually see more and more successful prosecutions.”

“When crime victims and survivors feel supported, they are more likely to stay engaged with the criminal justice system.”

A victim’s task force and an independent consultant were added after the original bill passed in 2014. Garcia said the mayor’s office decided to propose changes to the legislation based on the task force and consultant’s analysis of how to improve the District’s response to sexual assault.

The amendment would also allow a survivor of sexual assault to access crime victims compensation for medical and legal expenses without billing private insurance first, which Garcia said could benefit college students.

“A college student may not be ready yet to disclose to their parents that they have been a victim of sexual assault or may not want their parents to know that they have been sexually assaulted, and so that shouldn’t be an impediment to the care that they need,” she said.

Garcia said the U.S. Attorney’s Office already requires prosecutors to inform survivors why they would not pursue a case, and the District would be replicating that process.

The Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project called for the removal of clothing to require consent after a 2015 case where a woman had woken up naked from the waist down but could not recall what happened, according to the group’s address to the D.C. Council, obtained by The Hatchet. The woman was meeting with her building manager for her apartment in Northwest D.C. when she said she was drugged but could not prove she had been sexually abused.

The bill would amend a previous law that passed the Council unanimously in 2014 in response to claims that MPD mishandled cases of sexual assault. The Human Rights Watch documented several instances where survivors said police did not believe their stories and where MPD did not investigate reports of sexual assault.

The 2014 legislation established sexual assault survivor rights, including testing evidence from rape kits and toxicology reports within 90 days from when they enter the lab, informing survivors of the test results and notifying the survivor when MPD contacts a suspect.

Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen, the chair of the Committee of the Judiciary and Public Safety, where the amendment was referred, plans to schedule the hearing before the summer recess, spokesman Erik Salmi said in an email.

The new amendment follows a trend of recent sexual assault legislation that expands survivor rights.

The new amendment follows a trend of recent sexual assault legislation that expands survivor rights. In 2016, Congress unanimously passed what became known as the Sexual Assaults Survivors Bill of Rights. The act provides sexual assault survivors with more access to their rape kits and toxicology reports and established a task force to see whether the new regulations benefit survivors, the New York Times reported.

Experts said most of the protection efforts in the amendment to the bill should have a positive effect on survivors of sexual assault.

Kate Fowler, the executive director for It Happened To Alexa Foundation, a sexual assault survivors advocacy group, said when a survivor does not know why their case was dropped, it can create trauma that can cause more harm to the survivor.

“When a prosecutor decides to not take a case for whatever reason, and the survivor doesn’t know why that it is than there likely to believe that they weren’t credible enough, that it was their fault,” she said.

Mary Smith, a sexual assault and domestic violence therapist at The Women’s Center, said funding survivor compensation for medical bills can allow survivors to see professionals immediately instead of being placed on a waitlist and slowing down the healing process.

The provision about providing consent to the removal of clothing can help survivors immediately feel in control right after they experience such a traumatic event, Smith said.

“To have individuals you know really supporting, asking for consent you know something that the individual just had taken away from them allows them to have their own voice and feel supported,” she said.

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