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Legislation Would Create 'Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill Of Rights' In Florida

Sexual assault kits
The bill would require free and timely testing of rape kits, among other things. CREDIT SGT. REBECCA LINDER / DEFENSEIMAGERY.MIL VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Florida lawmakers are considering companion bills in the House and Senate that would establish a "Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights."

The bill would require rape kits to be tested within 60 days, regardless of whether the survivor chooses to formerly report the abuse and regardless of their ability to pay.

Sen. Lauren Book (D-Broward), one of the bill sponsors, said that way, even if a survivor doesn’t initially want to report the abuse, if they change their mind down the road their DNA is in the system.

“Every 73 seconds a man, woman or child becomes a victim to sexual assault here in the United States, yet sexual assault is the No. 1 underreported violent crime in our country,” she said. “So anything that we can do to make this process easier for survivors is of the utmost importance.”

RELATED: Bill Would Give Sexual Assault Survivors One-Year 'Look Back Window' To File Claims

She said the mandate for "free and timely" testing would also prevent another backlog from forming, after reports a few years ago showed the state had more than 8,000 untested rape kits.

Lawmakers approved a bill in 2016 to provide more resources to clear up the backlog and in September, state officials announced they had completed the project.

Book is also a survivor of childhood sexual assault and said she understands the struggles victims go through when trying to seek justice.

She said her legislation would also require medical professionals and law enforcement officials who come in contact with survivors to clearly define their rights, including rights to free counseling and to remain anonymous.

"And while most of these are already in statute, having it one place when you're having to navigate a very new and scary, awful thing is extremely, extremely important,” said Book.

A federal version of the bill was signed by President Barack Obama in 2016 and was intended to serve as a model for states to follow.

Rep. Adam Hattersley (D-Hillsborough) is sponsoring the House version.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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