While not always recognized, sexual assault has an overwhelming presence in our communities. States have a critical role to play in ensuring that survivors of this devastating crime can receive the care, compassion, and justice they deserve.

Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights

Sexual assault is an intensely personal, devastating crime with far-reaching impacts in our communities. It is the costliest of all crimes to its victims, with total estimated costs of $127 billion a year. Many victims suffer from long-term health impacts, as well as debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although it is not always recognized, sexual assault has a staggering presence across the nation. One in five women will experience sexual assault while in college, and one in three women have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking in their lifetime. Sexual assault is often incorrectly identified as a “women’s issue.” In reality, researchers have found that one in six men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18, and transgender individuals also experience unconscionably high rates of sexual assault.

The issue of sexual assault has only recently gotten the attention it deserves. It’s time to work collaboratively and really move forward.”

— Washington State Rep. Tina Orwall

At both the state and federal level, there have been considerable policy strides to ensure that survivors of sexual assault are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect. The crime victim rights movement began over 30 years ago, with the passage of federal legislation like the Victim and Witness Protection Act in 1982 and the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) in 1984. One decade later, in 1994, we saw the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). With each reauthorization of VAWA, there are continual advancements to ensure that survivors receive the care, compassion, and justice they deserve. For example, VAWA now requires states to pay directly for sexual assault forensic medical examinations, regardless of whether the survivor is participating in the criminal justice system. VAWA also requires coordination with health care providers to notify victims of the availability of this exam at no cost.

While federal policy has led to important progress in addressing sexual assault, states must work to ensure that the myriad needs that survivors may face are met appropriately within varied systems – such as criminal justice proceedings, hospital-based care, and school and campus response.

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