Signs Legislation to Provide Survivors with Knowledge of Their Rights to Care and Treatment
Ensures Survivors Are Informed of DNA Test Results and Notified Before Sexual Assault Evidence Kits Are Destroyed
Builds on Governor's Record of Supporting Sexual Assault Survivors, Including Clearing the Backlog of Untested Rape Kits and Extending the Retention of Untested Evidence Kits to 20 Years
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation (A.8401-C/S.8977) to establish a sexual assault survivors' bill of rights. The new law requires the Department of Health, in consultation with the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Office of Victim Services, and other stakeholders, to establish a sexual assault survivors' bill of rights for purposes of informing survivors of their rights under state law. Notifying victims of their legal rights will help ensure survivors request and receive the information they need to navigate complicated medical and criminal justice systems.
"As the federal government shamefully ignores the voices of sexual assault survivors, New York is doing everything in our power to empower survivors and ensure they are treated with dignity and respect," Governor Cuomo said. "This legislation will support our work to combat the scourge of sexual harassment and assault, help deliver justice to survivors and make New York a safer state for all."
"We must continue to fight to change the culture and create a safe environment for women to come forward and be believed," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "We want to make sure sexual assault survivors are aware of the care and treatment available to help in the recovery process. In New York, we are taking important steps to ensure the security of victims and a safe environment for all women. This bill of rights for sexual assault survivors builds on our efforts to combat sexual assault and strengthen equal opportunities for all New Yorkers."
The bill of rights includes the right to:
- Consult with a rape crisis or victim assistance organization;
- Appropriate health care services at no cost; and
- Receive updates on their sexual offense evidence kit and the status of their case.
The bill requires all law enforcement agencies to adopt policies that help them communicate effectively with survivors and it creates a Victim's Right to Notice, which enables a survivor to request information on their sexual offense evidence kit from the police agency or prosecutorial agency with jurisdiction over the crime.
The Governor's action today will create greater transparency and accountability within the medical and criminal justice processes, and help ensure all sexual assault survivors are treated with dignity, compassion and respect. The Sexual Assault Victim Bill of Rights will immediately be authorized and directed to be completed on or before the date the legislation takes effect, which is in 180 days.
This legislation builds on Governor Cuomo's record of supporting sexual assault survivors, which includes clearing the backlog of sexual assault evidence kits and mandating that newly acquired sexual assault evidence kits are - upon consent of a survivor - tested by law enforcement in a speedy manner. In addition, as part of the FY 2019 Budget, Governor Cuomo passed legislation to extend the length of time sexual offense evidence collection kits are preserved from 30 days to 20 years, delivering justice to survivors.
Senator Kemp Hannon said, "New York is leading the nation in fighting for protections for victims of sexual assault, and with the Governor's signature today, we have taken a major step forward in ensuring they get the best treatment possible. I applaud Governor Cuomo for making these measures a reality and for supporting survivors in New York."
Assembly Member Aravella Simotas said, "This is a great day that puts in place a missing protection for sexual assault survivors and bringing more compassion to the law enforcement response to survivors. I'm thankful to Governor Cuomo for enacting this new law, to the advocates whose dedication and collaboration brought this about and to Kemp Hannon, my colleague in the State Senate who sponsored the bill in that house. I'm proud that we could all work together for such an important cause."
Amanda Nguyen, Founder and CEO of Rise and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee said, "New York is leading the charge and standing as an example of survivors' protections in other states across the country. The Rise team and I are grateful for Governor Cuomo's leadership in signing this important bill into law and standing with the 6.8 million sexual assault survivors in New York. We, further, appreciate the leadership and support of Assemblymember Simotas and Senator Hannon introducing this critical legislation and their commitment to helping this movement spread."
Ilse Knecht, Joyful Heart Policy and Advocacy Director, said, "The Joyful Heart Foundation is grateful to sponsors Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and Senator Kemp Hannon for their leadership on this important bill, and to Governor Cuomo for signing this necessary victims' rights bill into law. Codifying these rights ensures that survivors all throughout our state, from Brooklyn to Buffalo, will have information about the status and location of their rape kit, information which our research has shown can be imperative for survivors' healing. We are committed to ongoing collaboration with the Governor, legislature, statewide officials, advocates, and our long-time partners, without whom this effort would not have been possible, to ensure that survivors are given every opportunity for justice."
Selena Bennett-Chambers, Policy Director at the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said, "We applaud Governor Cuomo and the New York State legislature for enacting this bill into law. Recent reports of survivors of sexual violence being improperly billed by several hospitals for forensic rape examinations support the need for this law. In addition, providing survivors of sexual violence with the right to receive information regarding the status of their kits from a designee of a police or prosecutorial agency, who is trained in trauma and victim response, is a huge step in the right direction. Survivors of sexual violence should be supported in knowing their rights and their rights must be upheld."