Former Stanford University student Brock Turner was released from jail last summer after serving only three months of his six-month sentence for sexually assaulting a woman on campus. The assault builds on a growing number of similar, horrific attacks on our college campuses and in our communities, and has spurred long overdue conversations about sexual assault across the country.
In the course of these conversations, and in crafting reforms to prevent future assaults and ensure justice is served when they do happen, we can’t lose sight of the survivors. After enduring a terrible attack, survivors are often forced to navigate a complex criminal justice system that far too often adds to the psychological and emotional scars left by the crime itself.
It is a shame that it took this case and its courageous survivor speaking up to open this dialogue, but it would be a further harm to not turn this tragedy at Stanford, and the many others like it, into action. We must ensure that justice is served for survivors by passing the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights in California.
Developed by Rise, an organization founded by a survivor of campus sexual assault, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights adds legal protections for survivors as they cope with the aftermath of an assault and seek justice. Rise’s federal legislation unanimously passed both houses of Congress and was recently signed into law by President Obama, but their state bill still needs a legislative sponsor here in California.
If it passes, the legislation will increase access to sexual assault counselors and allow survivors to request the presence of their counselor at meetings with law enforcement and the district attorney. It will prohibit law enforcement officials from discouraging a survivor from receiving a medical evidentiary or physical examination, and will establish regulations for the proper handling, retention, and timely testing of DNA and physical evidence.
Rape kits have to be retained for at least 10 years under the legislation, and survivors must be notified before the destruction of rape kits in unsolved cases. Additionally, the bill of rights requires medical personnel, law enforcement, and the district attorney to notify the survivor of their rights prior to any interview or examination.
The Brock Turner case has made it clear that we have much more work to do in our state and in our nation to address the issue of sexual assault. In California, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to be a national leader in ensuring justice is served for survivors of sexual assault.
Our state needs to make this commitment to ensuring the criminal justice system will act as intended to protect the rights of survivors by making passage of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights one of our top priorities for the next legislative session.
Sentencing reform like Assembly Bills 701 and 2888, recently signed into law by Governor Brown, and holding judges accountable for unjust sentences are also necessary for restoring justice for survivors. But we can’t stop there. I believe our state needs to make a longstanding commitment that, during one of the most difficult times in a survivor’s life, the criminal justice system will protect their rights first and foremost.
It should never be the case where the pain of the initial sexual assault is matched by the ordeal survivors go through navigating the criminal justice process. We must act to correct that injustice and provide greater protections for those who have already experienced so much trauma.
Original article posted by The Mercury News
By Marc Berman
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