By Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ann Wagner Rape is a horrific crime.
But what if the horror story did not end with the crime itself? Too many brave survivors of sexual assault in our nation are re-victimized as they pursue the support, resources and justice they deserve. Their perseverance and strength is worthy of our greatest respect but we all know they deserve the full support of the government and the law at the federal, state and local level. Currently, an inefficient and outdated state-level legislative patchwork impedes the work of law enforcement, prosecutors, and advocates as they strive tirelessly to support survivors and their ability to pursue justice. The result? A process that works for no one and against everyone. Survivors are unable to access information about the investigation’s progress and the status of their rape kits. They often must regularly file motions to extend the case and preserve their evidence, if they are unable to immediately testify, perpetually reminding them of the trauma they experienced. Even when rights are already on the books — like the right to have a sexual assault counselor present during interviews, in many states — lack of standardization often prevents survivors from learning about these rights. And when survivors do not know about their rights, they cannot exercise them.
These challenges are a nightmare to navigate for anyone, let alone individuals in the wake of such a traumatic experience. The system is not working, and if the system is not working to protect the fundamental rights of citizens and those who serve them, it is our responsibility to change it. Across the country, survivors and advocates, professionals and students, men and women have come together to do just that. They are calling for every state to pass a Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights, to ensure access to justice and healing.
As public servants, as women and as mothers, we are honored to stand beside them. We have introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives, urging every state to pass a Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights. Best practices from across the country would be brought together, ensuring that we keep what works and change what doesn’t. They are straightforward and common sense solutions to a serious problem. Many states have already recognized some of these rights. Now, concerned citizens from all walks of life are calling on every state to do its part to ensure that access to justice is not dependent on geography.
All too often, politics can be bitter and partisan. But we all have a stake in the pursuit of justice. This cause has brought together the two of us, the DNC chair, and a former RNC co-chair, because it is a moral imperative that transcends party lines. Each of us — men and women, Republicans and Democrats, state and federal legislators — can and must work together to fulfill our promise to protect these fundamental rights. Our work has just begun, but already men and women on both sides of the aisle are taking up this cause. To everyone who wants to preserve our country’s promise of equal protection under the law we say: Join us. As we finish out the month of April — Sexual Assault Awareness Month — let’s make this the year that we work together to protect the rights of rape survivors across the United States of America.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a Democrat from Florida; Rep. Ann Wagner is a Republican from Missouri.
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