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Obama Signs Sexual Assault Survivors Bill Into Law

The way sexual assaults are handled in many jurisdictions is considered a stain on the American criminal justice system.

Often, rape and sexual abuse survivors -- like former Harvard student Amanda Nguyen -- are treated as suspects by police. Then, after enduring the further trauma of hours of questioning and intrusive medical examinations, their rape kits often sit for years in police evidence rooms, without ever being tested for DNA.

Hundreds of thousands of rape kits remain untested in the U.S., and victims like Nguyen often have to fight to make sure their kits are not destroyed.

But with bipartisan approval in Congress and the stroke of President Barack Obama's pen, the Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act, styled as a "bill of rights" for sex assault survivors, has become law, reports Christian Science Monitor.

"It includes really noncontroversial basic things like the right to have your evidence not be destroyed before the statute of limitations, access to medical results from the rape kit or forensic examination and the right to receive a copy of your own police report, the right to be notified of what your rights are in that state because your rights can vary from state to state," Nguyen told NPR.

The law guarantees sexual assault survivors in federal cases will be notified when their rape kits are processed, and of significant results, such as a DNA match to a suspect. It also requires medical professionals and members of law enforcement to notify victims of their rights, regardless of whether they go forward with legal action, according to Mother Jones.

The new law also means victims will not have to pay to have a rape kit produced.

"There is an uneven patchwork of laws across this country that prevents sexual assault survivors from having full access to the justice system," said Rep. Mimi Walters, a California Republican. "This law guarantees these rights in the federal criminal justice system, but it is my hope this law will set an example for states to adopt similar procedures and practices."

Nguyen began pushing for the law in 2013 after surviving a sexual assault and navigating the complex maze of laws and procedures that make it difficult for victims to make sure their cases are not forgotten.

In Nguyen's case, authorities in Massachusetts told her that her rape kit would be destroyed unless she filed "extension requests" every six months.

"The system essentially makes me live my life by date of rape," Nguyen told The Guardian.

On Oct. 7, Obama signed the bill into law, but Nguyen said it's not the end of the fight. The next step, she said, is pushing for all 50 states to adopt similar laws.

Sources: Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, Mother Jones / Photo credit: Amanda Nguyen via The Guardian

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