How RAINN’s Policy Team Works to Help Survivors

Recently, as Congress has considered police reform legislation, RAINN has urged House and Senate leaders to include a number of additional changes to help survivors of sexual violence.

RAINN’s suggestions address issues that disproportionately impact Black victims of sexual violence, especially Black girls, who are overrepresented in juvenile justice data. According to The Sex Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls Story, 76 percent of girls involved with the justice system have histories of physical and sexual abuse.

"We hope that both parties galvanize their caucuses and unify around these much-needed reforms," RAINN President Scott Berkowitz and Vice President of Public Policy Camille Cooper wrote in letters to leadership.

These efforts are just the latest on the part of the RAINN policy team to help bring about change at the federal level. Last year, the team helped to ensure reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act. It is the largest federal effort to address the rape kit backlog—a nation-wide delay in testing evidence from sexual assault forensic exams that may provide essential DNA evidence central for survivors seeking justice. The Debbie Smith Act provides for funding to state and local crime labs to analyze the evidence collected following a rape.

“It’s vital that the Debbie Smith Act is reauthorized every five years, and we’re honored to have been part of its successful reauthorization, but we also need to make sure it gets funding,” said Cooper. “Each year during the appropriations process, we advocate for Congress to make sure this essential bill is fully funded.”

The RAINN team is also working to ensure the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes increased protections for LGBTQ survivors and members of tribal communities.

“VAWA has been vital in supporting local sexual assault service providers in assisting survivors, and providing culturally competent and trauma informed training for law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” said Cooper. “We’re looking forward to continuing to expand the ways in which it helps survivors.”

In addition to these efforts, the team is focused on improving access to medical care for survivors by passing the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA). The bill increases the availability and training of sexual assault nurse examiners, including pediatric nurses and improves access to care for Native American and rural communities.

RAINN’s policy team has also been working on ways to keep kids safer from sexual abuse and exploitation. Two pieces of legislation the team is working on are the Project Safe Childhood Reauthorization and the Child Rescue Act. Both of these bills focus on increasing the investigative capacity and response related to child sexual abuse and exploitation for cases that happened offline and online. The bills also focus resources on identifying children who may be experiencing abuse.

“We’re focusing on dual-offenders: those are people who both sexually abuse children and also commit technology-facilitated crimes, such as producing or distributing child sexual abuse images,” said Cooper. “These children are especially vulnerable because there’s a high likelihood that the abuser is someone within their circle of trust, meaning a family member, teacher, or coach.”

To ensure that survivors in every state get the help they deserve, the team has also worked in the states to help expand statutes of limitations laws, as well as increase access to sexual assault nurse examiners.

This spring, RAINN’s team was on the ground in five states—Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Virginia.

“We’re there in person, helping to craft legislation, holding press conferences, testifying at hearings, and lobbying to make sure these reforms are enacted,” said Cooper. “In addition to this hands-on state work, we try to keep an eye on every piece of legislation coming out in state governments across the country that relate to sexual violence.”

During the 2020 state legislative session, more than 14,000 bills that impacted survivors were filed across all 50 states. RAINN prioritized the most critical bills, reviewing 383 individual pieces of legislation and engaging with legislators in 30 states on legislation relating to sexual violence.

“We’re glad to have made progress this year that helps survivors get the justice they deserve and we couldn’t have done it without the support of the RAINN community,” said Cooper. To learn more, sign up to receive policy news updates.

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