Congress Gets Right to Work on Sexual Violence Bills

While this year’s legislative session is only just beginning, Congress is already working on legislation to protect and support survivors of sex crimes and their children and hold sexual predators accountable.

Holding Child Pornographers Accountable

On February 11, the Senate unanimously approved S. 295, Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Victim Restitution Act. Introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the bill is named after two survivors who were re-victimized when their abusive relatives distributed digital images of the abuse worldwide.

Current law divides the responsibility to pay damages among all child pornography offenders (potentially thousands of people who distribute and download the images). That means that victims who seek restitution shoulder the burden of seeking out each individual offender. This can be onerous: a single image, once viral, can be passed from person-to-person, state-to-state, and country-to-country indefinitely. This legislation reduces that burden by requiring courts to order one offender to pay for all damages suffered by the victim. That offender may then try to collect reimbursement from other offenders.

“We’re pleased that the Senate acted so quickly to help victims collect from their abusers. We expect the House to also take this up later this year, and we will continue our work to support it,” said Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president for public policy.

Removing Parental Rights of Rapists

While 33 states offer survivors some protection against rapists asserting parental rights over the resulting children, 17 states and the District of Columbia do not. In these 17 states and DC, rapists, including Ariel Castro in Ohio, have sued for visitation rights, custody and other parental rights in attempts to manipulate survivors through the legal process.

Congress will soon consider a bill to encourage those 17 states to change their laws. “We expect a bill to be reintroduced in the House and for the Senate to make the issue a priority, as well. RAINN will work with Congress to get this bill passed,” said O’Connor.

Tripling the Funds Available to Help Victims of Crime

In its budget for the current fiscal year, passed last December, Congress tripled the amount of money available for victims of crime through the Crime Victims Fund, which is comprised of penalties and fines collected from those charged with breaking federal law. The money is distributed through state officials to survivors as well as victims’ service organizations.

“The Crime Victims Fund helps reimburse victims for medical and other expenses that they incur as a result of the crime,” explains O’Connor. “The increase, from $745 million last year to $2.6 billion this year, means that many more victims will get help to cover their crime-related costs.”

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