(Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2019 into law and expressed her gratitude for all who worked to create and pass the legislation.
“Today, we are sending a clear message to survivors of sexual assault that your voices matter and your stories and experiences will be heard,” said Mayor Bowser. “We achieved this legislative milestone thanks to the hard work and determination of victims and survivors, advocates, and our community-based organizations.”
The Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2019 built on the Mayor’s 2017 legislative proposal by incorporating feedback from victims and survivors, advocates, and subject matter experts to strengthen the introduced policies and improve outcomes for victims and survivors of sexual assault. The legislation will codify best practices by responding to the needs identified by victims and survivors to strengthen their rights and enhance system responses.
“Five years ago, the District embarked on a critical assessment of its responses to victims/survivors of sexual violence to identify how they could be improved and today is the culmination of those efforts,” said Michelle M. Garcia, Director of the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants. “This Act centers the experiences of victims/survivors and will lead to a safer, stronger DC.”
Key elements of SAVRAA 2.0 include:
Extending the right to a victim advocate for survivors beginning at the age of 13;
Creating a definition of sexual assault counselors that mirrors the definitions of domestic violence counselor and human trafficking counselors already in DC law;
Requiring additional training for advocates working with youth who are victims of sexual assault;
Clarifying confidential communications between sexual assault counselors and sexual assault victims;
Creating the opportunity for the provision of coordinated SANE exams in other locations throughout the District;
Guaranteeing advocacy services at any area hospital, and includes the use of electronic and telephone communications when an in-person advocate may not be practical or at the victim’s request; and
Opening the door for additional organizations working with sexual assault victims to join DC’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART).
SAVRAA 2.0 extends the Bowser Administration’s commitment to supporting victims and survivors of sexual assault. In FY16, Mayor Bowser provided substantial resources and support to the Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS) in order to resume DNA testing of sexual assault kits. As a result, the agency was able to meet the requirements of the original SAVRAA legislation that requires kits to be processed in no more than 90 days. Since then, DFS has established and maintained a zero backlog of sexual assault kits and all kits are processed in an average of 65 days. Since FY16, DFS has received OVSJG grant funds ($270,000 – $500,000) annually to DFS to support efficient processing and maintenance of the zero backlog.