On Monday night, the Senate passed a bill outlining basic rights for survivors of sexual assault (the first time a federal law has done so, ever). Equally important: It places particular emphasis on solving the country's backlog of untested rape kits.
Passed by a unanimous Senate vote, the Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act would give survivors the right to have rape kits preserved for the entire relevant statute of limitations (the limited period of time in which a survivor can file charges after an assault). If a kit is going to be destroyed, survivors would be notified in writing 60 days prior to the date and could request extended preservation of the kit. They could also be informed of important results from forensic exams.
This all seems pretty ... essential, right? The legislation is a federal model; if passed by the House and signed by President Obama, it would guide states in overhauling their own systems. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, co-authored the legislation with Amanda Nguyen, a 24-year-old sexual-assault survivor who is still required to return every six months to Massachusetts (where she was assaulted) so that her rape kit can't be destroyed.
"Basically, I had to pen my own rights into existence," Nguyen recently told The Guardian. "The system essentially makes me live my life by date of rape." Nguyen founded Rise, an nonprofit that protects the rights of sexual-assault survivors, and works as a State Department liaison to the White House. She's also training to become an astronaut.
"You do have rights, we do care about you, if you choose to come forward, we are going to be there for you," Senator Shaheen said on the Senate floor. "And we are going to ensure a justice system that treats you with dignity and fairness."
New law establishes basic rights for sexual-assault survivors for the first time ever
A sexual assault evidence kit is logged in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. The new attention to sexual assault kits stems from a combination of factors: the persistence of advocacy groups, investigative media reports, the willingness of rape survivors to speak out and political support from statehouses up to the White House. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Instructions sit next to pipettes at a station in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. Before DNA, rape kits could be tested for blood group typing, but that was nowhere as definitive and the evidence could broadly exclude or include a suspect _ if one had been identified. DNA proved to be a turning point, but Houston Assistant Police Chief Mary Lentschke notes that police still faced two big obstacles: a shortage of both money and crime lab staff. It has cost $500 to $1,500 to test and analyze each kit. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Forensic analyst India Henry examines cotton swabs from a sexual assault evidence kit in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. A dramatic shift is taking hold across the country as police and prosecutors scramble to process these kits and use DNA matches to track down sexual predators, many of whom attacked more women while evidence of their crimes languished in storage. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are proposing reforms to ensure this doesn't happen again. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy speaks during an interview about rape kits in Detroit on Monday, April 20, 2015. On the the backlog of rape kit testing, she says, "It shows that we, as this country, do not respect rape victims to the extent that we respect other victims." (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy looks at documents in Detroit on Monday, April 20, 2015. Her office is working with the Michigan Women's Foundation and the Detroit Crime Commission to raise money to complete the backlog of rape kit testing and investigation and bring suspects to trial. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Vials of evidence in a sexual assault case are labeled and sorted in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. In some cases, it's simply too late for justice because statutes of limitations have expired. In others, investigators may have to wade through old, often incomplete, police files, search for witnesses and suspects, confront fading memories and persuade survivors to reopen painful chapters of their lives. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Forensic analyst Karen Gincoo checks a tray of evidence vials from rape kits in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. In Houston, authorities recently cleared a backlog of nearly 6,700 kits that included cases dating back to the 1980s. The project, which cost about $6 million, turned up 850 matches in a national DNA database. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
This Thursday, April 2, 2015 photo shows an evidence bag from a sexual assault case in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston. Legislators in more than 20 states are considering _ and in some cases, passing _ laws that include auditing all kits and deadlines for submitting and processing DNA evidence. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Vials of evidence from rape kits are labeled and sorted for testing in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. In resurrecting old crimes, investigators have detected an alarming pattern: Many rapists are repeat offenders. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, MAY 31, 2014 AND THEREAFTER - A small piece of cotton from a swab in a sexual assault evidence kit is placed into a vial for testing in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)