NEW YORK – On December 21, New York State Assemblymember Aravella Simotas thanked Governor Andrew Cuomo for signing into law the bill she sponsored increasing protections and rights for sexual assault survivors by creating a sexual assault survivor bill of rights.
Assemblymember Simotas said, “This is a great day that puts in place a missing protection for sexual assault survivors and brings more compassion to the law enforcement response to survivors. I’m thankful to the governor for enacting this new law, to Kemp Hannon, my colleague in the state Senate who sponsored the bill in that house and to the advocates whose dedication and collaboration brought this about. I am proud that we could all work together for such an important cause.”
The new law mandates that sexual assault survivors be given a copy of a Bill of Rights that will clearly spell out existing services available to them and the rights they have under New York State laws. The Bill of Rights must be shared before a victim undergoes a forensic physical examination or interview by law enforcement.
It will inform them of:
- The right to consult with a representative from a rape crisis or victim assistance organization before a physical exam or law enforcement interview and the right to have a representative accompany them through the exam and interview.
- The right to free and appropriate health care services including the forensic examination, HIV post-exposure therapies, and emergency contraception.
- The right to contact information for the law enforcement entity with jurisdiction over the crime.
- The right to 90 days notice before a rape kit is destroyed.
Plus, the law establishes a new “right to notice” so that if victims want to be notified, they will be updated about the status of the evidence processed from their forensic examination (rape kit) and whether or not a DNA match was made.
Senator Kemp Hannon said, “It is essential that women receive the support and resources they need after an assault. This law will make sure survivor’s rights are clearly spelled out. I am proud that New York has become a leader in protecting survivors and I thank the Governor for signing this important legislation into law.”
Abby Haglage, a rape survivor whose forensic evidence kit was destroyed prematurely and without her knowledge, said, “With this historic legislation, lawmakers have sent a message to the 6.8 million sexual assault survivors like me in New York: we matter. Thank you to Governor Cuomo for his leadership in signing this legislation into law, and to Assemblymember Simotas and Senator Hannon for making these rights a priority. On behalf of all survivors, I am profoundly grateful.”
Ilse Knecht, Policy and Advocacy Director for the Joyful Heart Foundation said, “This crucial reform gives sexual assault survivors important rights including the right to be informed about the status of their rape kit, which survivors have told us is central to their healing process. We were honored to work with Assemblywoman Simotas and Senator Hannon to enact this law.”
Amanda Nguyen, Founder and CEO of Rise said, “Thank you to Assemblywoman Simotas for standing with the 6.8 million sexual assault survivors in New York. We are grateful for Governor Cuomo for his leadership in signing this important bill into law. The Rise team and I are thankful that New York is leading the charge and standing as an example to other states of what survivors’ protections need to be.”
Earlier in the year, the adopted 2018-2019 State budget contained Assemblymember Simotas’ legislation ensuring sexual assault survivors greater opportunity to seek justice by preventing the premature destruction of rape kits if a victim chooses not to make an immediate police report. That law requires that such rape kits be retained for 20 years, rather than only 30 days, which was clearly not enough time for traumatized victims to make decisions about moving forward with a criminal complaint.
In 2016, the governor signed legislation that Simotas and Hannon sponsored to mandate the speedy processing of rape kits and end the backlog of untested kits.