New Congress, New State Legislatures, Consistent Theme: Combating Sexual Assault
(January 28, 2015) — With the start of the 114th Congress and, across the nation, new state legislative sessions underway, federal and state policymakers are pledging to make sexual violence a major focus of their work.
“RAINN’s public policy team is currently working with hundreds of members of Congress and state legislators,” says Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president for public policy.
“We expect to see a lot of action from our best allies in Congress to advance ongoing priorities and new legislation. ”O’Connor says there are three questions she’s been hearing frequently from legislators.
1. “How should schools handle sexual assault cases?”
What is the role and responsibility of a college or university in the fight against sexual violence? What standards should apply to investigations, and when and how should law enforcement be involved? How can we best protect students from these crimes and support those who are victimized? These are just some of the questions in a debate that a White House Initiative elevated to the national level last year. “We’re working closely with federal lawmakers to shape legislation that will be re-introduced this session and is sure to once again make front-page news,” says O’Connor.
2. “What can be done to end the backlog of rape kits?”
The secret is out: Untested rape kits are a national problem. While good progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to ensure sexual assault forensic exam kits are correctly processed so victims get answers and rapists are held accountable. Congressagrees, having renewed the nation’s largest anti-rape kit backlog initiative, the Debbie Smith Act, sustained funding for the program, and approved new spending fighting the backlog. “RAINN is closely monitoring the Justice Department’s implementation of the SAFER Act and new DNA initiatives,” says O’Connor. “In addition, RAINN, together with the National Center for Victims of Crime and Natasha’s Justice Project, is at the helm of the Rape Kit Action Project (RKAP), which last year advised lawmakers in 20+ states as they developed rape-kit laws. With RKAP support, seven states passed such laws last year and we expect to help many more do so this year.”
3. “How can professional sports leagues be part of the solution?”
The media has intensively covered how the NFL has dealt with domestic violence and sexual assault issues, and Congress has also been keeping tabs on these efforts. Last month, aSenate committee hearing featured testimony from representatives of the NHL, NBA, MLB, and their players’ unions regarding their efforts to respond to and prevent sexual and domestic violence. “Continued national dialogue – including new legislation – is likely in the year ahead. RAINN has held discussions with sports leaders as well as members of Congress about steps leagues can take to improve,” says O’Connor.
Other issues likely to be taken up by Congress and states this year include: legislation toimprove the process of compensating victims of child pornography; bills to incentivize states to block rapists from asserting parental rights over children conceived through rape; and efforts to ensure that victims’ interests are prioritized and protected throughout implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).