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Legislature strengthening sexual assault victims' rights and access to information

Joe Gratz
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

By the end of September, survivors of sexual assault will have new rights.

The Sexual Assault Victim’s Access To Justice Act sets up an array of victims' rights in sexual assault cases.

The act requires police agencies to inform survivors about how they can get help and support, where the survivor can get free medical care and testing, and to do it all within 24 hours of the first contact with the survivor.

Gail Krieger is a staff attorney with the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board.

Krieger says this act is necessary because, if nothing else, it’s important for victims of any crime to know what their rights are and "most of us don’t know or think about that until we actually become a victim of crime.”

She tells us that Michigan’s legislature and governor’s office have been working for years to strengthen the protections that are in place for sexual assault victims.

For example, she cites a law passed around five years ago that allows victims to get a forensic medical exam without having to talk to law enforcement first, and the victim can’t be billed for it.

Krieger tells us that in many cases victims of sexual assault hesitate to seek help from medical professionals or law enforcement because they don't know who they want to share the information with and are unsure how much they want to get involved in the criminal justice process.

“It’s really important that they can go in and get an exam and actually get evidence collected in that critical window after the assault took place,” Krieger says. Additionally, under the Sexual Assault Victim’s Access To Justice Act, law enforcement agencies are required to inform survivors how and where to get tested, but the victim has no obligation to continue through the criminal justice process long term.

Krieger says that the act may not drastically alter the way many law enforcement agencies across the state currently operate, but by requiring them to provide this information it will incentivize them to be more proactive about both sharing the information and keeping it up to date.

The act will also allow victims to call the police department to inquire about the status of their test kit results, according to Krieger.

“They have the right to call and say, 'where is my kit in the process, and what is the result of forensic evidence testing?' ” she says.

In this way, Krieger says the act is meant not only to encourage law enforcement to educate victims, but also to give those victims some more insight into their own cases. The act will require law enforcement agencies to put these new policies in place no later than September 30.

Krieger hopes that this act will give victims of sexual assault the information they need to feel that something is being done on their case.

“I think we have so many great law enforcement officers in the state who really care about the victims,” she tells us, “and I hope this helps close the gap so sexual assault victims can really feel that the state is on their side.”

-Ryan Grimes, Stateside

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