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A New Law To Protect Sexual Assault Survivors Means Rape Kits Are No Longer Disposable

Due to a push by 25-year-old activist Amanda Nguyen, President Obama signed a new law that makes sure police don't destroy rape kits before they get tested.

A New Law To Protect Sexual Assault Survivors Means Rape Kits Are No Longer Disposable

[Photo: Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images]

Here’s one more of about 8 million differences between Presidential candidate Donald Trump and current President Barack Obama. On the same day Trump was being exposed for casually talking up sexual assault, Obama signed a bill into law that will protect the rights of sexual assault survivors.

The major bipartisan legislation focuses on survivors’ rights with respect to rape kits, the forensic evidence that is collected after a suspected sexual assault. While DNA is collected from rape kits and there are national databases to log them, the sad truth is that many rape kits never get tested: It's estimated that hundreds of thousands are just sitting in crime labs.

The new bill protects survivors’ rights in several ways. For one, they can’t be charged fees for the exam, and the kits must be preserved until the statute of limitations for rape is over. In the past, it has been common practice for police departments to toss out rape kits early, without even telling the victim. Finally, the bill says that survivors have the right to be notified of the results of their rape kit after it’s tested, and they can have access to a sexual assault counselor.

The victory is largely the outcome of the work of a group called Rise, led by 25-year-old Amanda Nguyen, who Co.Exist profiled in April. Her rape kit was almost destroyed by the state of Massachusetts without her knowledge, which led her to launch a grassroots campaign on the issue to fix a messy patchwork of inadequate state laws. What was unique about Rise is that it framed it as a civil rights issue.

"Truly our biggest challenge is getting the word out there. It’s because people don’t know how broken the criminal justice system is," she told Co.Exist in April. "Often change happens because there’s a window of opportunity. That window of opportunity for this issue is right now."

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