December 10, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SVRPC Legislative Project
Bill Offers Critical Recommendations to Support Survivors of Sexual Assault Following Investigative Report by Human Rights Watch
Washington, D.C., — Groundbreaking legislation to improve the handling of cases of sexual assault cases and the treatment of survivors in the city by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) will be heard by the Council of the District of Columbia on Thursday, December 12 at 11:00am ET in Room 412. The legislation, called the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2013 (SAVRAA), comes in response to a January 2013 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the mishandling of sexual assault cases by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and other concerns raised by survivors in the city. The report, which profiled 150 sexual assault survivors, alleged that DC police routinely disregarded rape victims and either misclassified or failed to report sexual assault cases. MPD responded by making a number of changes to its practices, and the DC Council assigned an independent review by the law firm Crowell & Moring, helping to result in the drafting of the SAVRAA.
The SAVRAA includes a number of critical recommendations to support survivors of sexual assault and improve MPD’s handling of sexual assault cases, including increasing the confidentiality between survivors and victim advocates; improving the processing of sexual assault forensic examination kits; strengthening MPD’s accountability; and granting sexual assault victims the right to have a trained sexual assault victim advocate present at medical and law enforcement proceedings.
The SAVRAA is the culmination of many months of collaborative work by the Legislation Project of the Sexual Violence Response and Prevention Council (SVRPC), a broad coalition of community advocacy groups, direct service providers, survivors of sexual assault and other key stakeholders convened by the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC). The SVRPC Legislation Project believes that the legislation is a critical first step in improving the rights of sexual assault survivors in DC. “We’re encouraged that MPD has voiced a strong commitment to improving its management of cases involving sexual violence, and has already made some improvements since the release of the Human Rights Watch report,” said Susan Mottet, President of DC NOW. “However, there are three (3) critical improvements that must be made to the current bill in order to protect survivors of sexual assault to the fullest degree possible.” These improvements include:
Eliminate of the exception to the victim’s right to have an advocate present;
Require regular case review by the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) or experts in sexual assault investigation best practices; and
Establish an external consultant to assist MPD with implementation of best practices and to report progress.
The SVRPC Legislation Project believes that it is critical that DC fully supports survivors of sexual assault and pass the strongest bill possible. “Our policy recommendations to DC Council support the best interests of survivors and ensure for the community that our systems are taking survivors’ rights seriously,” said DCRCC Executive Director Sherelle Hessell-Gordon. “MPD still needs to restore the public’s confidence through oversight and transparency,” said Julia Strange, Director of Policy for Collective Action for Safe Spaces. “If the DC community perceives that MPD is not taking these crimes seriously, survivors might not feel comfortable reporting sexual assaults.” Cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia have already paved the way in using open collaboration between police, government and advocacy groups to ensure strong legal and community support for survivors.
The December 12th hearing on the legislation — at which a number of survivors will testify — represents an unprecedented opportunity for DC residents to discuss the need to eliminate sexual violence in the District and ensure that cases are properly followed through and survivors are fully respected. The SVRPC Legislation Project strongly encourages members of the DC community to attend the hearing either in person or online (follow hashtag #SurvivorRightsDC) in efforts to bolster support. “We know that, working together, we will ensure legislation that will meet the needs of survivors and the community,” said Sherelle Hessell-Gordon.
More information about the SAVRAA and the December 12th hearing is available at http://dcrapecrisiscenter.org/
ABOUT THE SVRPC LEGISLATIVE PROJECT
The SVRPC Legislative Project supports the sexual assault state coalition work of DCRCC to improve public policy and systems addressing sexual violence in the District. The Legislation Project has been dedicated to responding to the SAAVRA, both to improve DC’s need for responsive and trauma-informed police investigations of sexual assault and to enhance other protections of survivors’ rights. Members include Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, DC NOW and more.