Many bills were signed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson these past few weeks, including on that will provide more protection to sexual assault victims.
Senate Bill 569 has three major points, which are requiring all hospitals to provide rape kits, as well as giving victims access to a tracking system for sexual assault evidence and create a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.
State Rep. Sheila Solon, assisted with SB 569 through her Children and Families Committee shares why passing this bill will be important.
“It actually contained three bills in them, but all three pieces of legislation are going to be really important for sexual assault victims to heal and also make sure that rapists are brought to justice,” Solon said. “This is a public safety issue. We need to make sure we get the evidence, we store the evidence, we test the evidence, because these rapists are going to continue to assault and hurt victims if we don’t get them off the streets and put them behind bars.”
Solon also explains one of the reasons this bill was created was due to the 7,000 rape kits that are backlogged with 90% of them untested. Part of this bill will help improve and speed up the testing process.
“It’s going to require that these rape kits get tested promptly and that there’s a repository where they’re stored for five years,” Solon said. “If a victim is under 18, then it’s going to be stored for five years after they reach the age of 18.”
Another point the bill covers is collateral evidence, which is anything that contains DNA, such as clothing or undergarments. Solon said there was a lot of push back on this part from the public, but that these pieces of evidence can greatly assist law enforcement.
“A lot of times victims take a shower because they don’t know any better and before they go to the hospital, so a rape kit is not going to have the evidence that we need,” Solon said. “So that collateral evidence with the DNA on it is just as important for law enforcement to store in a temperature-controlled environment and catalog it just like we do the rape kits.”
As part of the bill addresses the requirement of hospitals the biggest changes will be in rural areas.
“We have rural hospitals that do not have SANE trained nurses, which is Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, and victims show up at a hospital and they’re told, ‘No, we’re not going to take the rape kit, you need to go three hours away,’” Solon said.
Many victims in these areas may not have the ability to get to another hospital and will not go at all.
“In this bill, it says that Tele-med training is going to be given to all the rural hospitals to every hospital that needs it to make sure that there is a SANE nurse trained there at the hospital to take the evidence and to walk them through the process, because it’s really important that it be done correctly so that we can get convictions,” Solon said. “And so we want to make sure that victims who go to rural hospitals have the same rights as someone who’s at an urban hospital.”
The importance of rural hospitals being funded with proper training and support is to ensure the evidence will stand in court.
“There’s a lot of turnovers because, as you can imagine, it’s a difficult job, it’s traumatic. So we need to make sure we have people trained properly and that they know how to do the exam,” Solon said. “And if during the actual exam, with the victim’s permission, they can get on the monitor and make sure they’re doing it properly because some of these rural hospitals don’t see as many victims as urban hospitals.”
Solon said this all to make sure that the victim and the survivor see justice and feel empowered.