It was during the last week of the 2020 legislative session that I had the incredible honor of presiding over the House Chamber as we passed legislation that will help victims of sexual assault receive the justice they deserve. In overwhelming, bipartisan fashion, my colleagues and I passed Senate Bill 569 to better ensure justice for victims by requiring all hospitals to provide rape kits, give survivors access to a tracking system for sexual assault evidence, and create a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.
This legislation started in large part as a response to the more than 7,000 backlogged rape kits here in Missouri. With 90 percent of these kits untested, it became clear something had to be done to ensure these kits are tested so that offenders are prosecuted and kept off the streets so that they can’t assault other victims. The bill we passed gives victims access to a secure electronic tracking system for these kits. With this, victims can track the status of their kit throughout the legal process. The bill also requires the Department of Public Safety to develop a centralized repository for evidence that is temperature-controlled to preserve the integrity of the kits and diminish degradation. These changes will better ensure offenders are convicted, justice is served, and victims are able to move forward with the healing process.
It’s important to note that Senate Bill 569 gives sexual assault victims who live in rural areas the same rights as urban areas. Using the wonders of technology, it will put an expert in every hospital to provide a sound exam. Specifically, it requires the state health department to establish a statewide telehealth network to provide forensic exams for victims of sexual assault. This will ensure every hospital can provide a forensic exam by 2023. With this we can ensure survivors won’t be re-traumatized when they go to a hospital and can’t access an exam that is critical to putting the offender behind bars. We also will ensure medical personnel have the training necessary to do the evidence collection properly and follow the chain of custody before police pick up a kit so it can “stand up” in a trial.
The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights created by the bill includes rights and protections for survivors of sexual assault during any medical examination and interactions with law enforcement, the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney. The bill includes the right to consult with employees or volunteers of rape crisis centers during any examination or interview, the right to receive notice of these rights prior to an examination or interview, the right to a prompt analysis of the forensic evidence, the right to shower at no cost after a forensic exam and the right to choose the gender of the law enforcement officer who interviews them. By putting these rights into law, we can better ensure our system does not further victimize the victim and make certain the allegations of sexual assault are quickly and accurately investigated.
This bill represents a truly monumental step forward in our efforts to provide the support system and resources that will allow survivors, hospitals, and law enforcement to put sexual predators behind bars. This was a piece of legislation that came through my Children and Families Committee and there was a lot of pressure from outside groups that wanted key provisions removed. But together we stood strong against these pressures to do what is right for victims of sexual assault. I’m thankful that my committee, my colleagues and the House and Senate, and Gov. Mike Parson all worked together to pass this bill that will lead to more successful convictions of those who have committed the horrific crime of sexual assault.