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Sweeney-Greenstein ‘Bill of Rights’ for Sexual Assault Survivors Gains Senate Approval

Trenton – Legislation to establish a “Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights” for survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence was approved by the Senate today. Authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Linda Greenstein, the bill, S-875, would put in place practices and procedures to provide the care and treatment needed by survivors and to ensure their safety and support in the wake of assaults that can cause physical and emotional trauma.

“Sexual assaults inflict physical and emotional trauma on the survivors that last a lifetime,” said Senator Sweeney.  “They should not be intimidated or ignored by the criminal justice system or by the law enforcement process after being assaulted. The survivors have the right to be treated with respect and dignity by a system that protects their safety and well-being. A Bill of Rights will provide the legal and emotional protections they deserve.”

The bill codifies rights for medical treatment by a provider of the survivor’s choice, for mental health services, to speak privately with a rape care advocate, an attorney, member of the clergy or a family member or friend who can provide support. The survivor would have the right to speak privately at any point in the process of reporting a sexual assault or receiving services. They would also be entitled to formally report the sexual violence, or to refrain from making a formal report to any person or institution, including law enforcement authorities.

“In the past year, the #MeToo movement has shown how the rich and powerful continually have taken sexual advantage of vulnerable women and also men,” said Senate Law and Public Safety Chairwoman Greenstein. “In too many cases – both in the ones that make the headlines and the ones that don’t – the narrative is the same: survivors weren’t taken seriously by law enforcement or by other public agencies that should have been focused first and foremost on the person seeking help. This legislation will put procedures in place that will ensure that their rights are protected and respected.”

Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime, according to national statistics. Almost 30 percent of male rape victims said it happened when they were 10 years old or younger while 79 percent of female survivors said it happened before they turned 25.

Inequality, oppression, and discrimination are the root causes of sexual violence, research indicates. Because women and girls are given less power and value in society, some people feel they can violate women and girls’ boundaries and commit acts of violence against them, advocates say.

The bill would also require that these rights be included in the Attorney General’s Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault, posted in all SART participating emergency rooms, law enforcement agencies, and sexual violence service organizations.

The bill was approved with a unanimous vote of 40-0.