New law creates ‘Bill of Rights’ for sexual assault victims

Photo courtesy of the New York State Assembly
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, joined by Sen. Kemp Hannon and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, urges passage of her legislation ensuring sexual assault survivors greater opportunity to seek justice and expanding their rights. Her bill, which was sponsored in the Senate by Hannon, was signed by the governor on December 21.

A new law signed by the governor in late December is aimed at keeping sexual assault victims informed about their health care and treatment rights and making it easier to get updates on the status of their evidence kits.

The new law requires the Department of Health, in consultation with the Division of Criminal Justice Services, and the Office of Victim Services to establish a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights designed to inform survivors of their rights under state law.

Victims must be given a copy of their rights during their medical examination or the interview by police.

Notifying victims of their legal rights will help ensure survivors request and receive the information they need to navigate complicated medical and criminal justice systems.

Provisions in the new law — sponsored by former Senator Kemp Hannon and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas — gives sexual assault victims the right to consult with rape crisis or victim assistance organizations and receive appropriate health care services at no cost.

In addition, all law enforcement agencies must uphold a Victim’s Right to Notice, which enables a survivor to request and obtain updates on their evidence kit as well as the status of their case.

“New York is doing everything in our power to empower survivors and ensure they are treated with dignity and respect,” Cuomo said. “This legislation will support our work to combat the scourge of sexual harassment and assault, help deliver justice to survivors, and make New York a safer state for all.”

In addition to the new law, the current budget includes legislation that extends the length of time that sexual offense evidence collection kits are preserved from 30 days to 20 years.

“This is a great day that puts in place a missing protection for sexual assault survivors and bringing more compassion to the law enforcement response to survivors,” said Simotas, D-Queens.

The new law takes effect in June.

“New York is leading the nation in fighting for protections for victims of sexual assault,” said Senate sponsor Kemp Hannon, the former Health Committee chair who lost his seat in the November General Election. “With the governor’s signature … we have taken a major step forward in ensuring they get the best treatment possible.