Missouri Senate passes bill to protect sexual assault survivors
Missouri lawmakers will meet again this week to talk about the state budget and the coronavirus. During their conversations last week, they had another priority as well. Senators unanimously passed a bill that provides protections for sexual assault survivors.
"That sends a message that this is not okay, we want to fix this and make this better," said Brandi Bartel, Executive Director of The Victim Center in Springfield.
Bartel said the recent actions by the Missouri Senate make it clear, the state is stepping up for sexual assault survivors.
“That’s some of the challenges that we face as advocates when working with victims is helping victims understand what the next steps are and what their rights are," Bartel said.
Bartel said she fees like she often has to fight for basic rights for victims, but sexual assault victims might soon have more rights, under a bill senators passed in their first week back in session.
The bill would streamline the rape kit testing process, to avoid further backlog, and give victims a way to track their status.
"To help them make the best choices for themselves, they need information and right now, a lot of times, victims are just kind of hanging out in the dark and not sure what the status is of their case," Bartel said.
The bill would also launch a statewide telehealth system for the collection of those rape kits.
Brooke Batesel is a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) for CoxHealth in Springfield.
“Sexual assault is an extremely, extremely traumatizing experience," Batesel said.
Batesel is trained to document sexual assault injuries and provide care for the victims who experience them. However, she says there are only a handful of certified nurses like her across the state.
She said CoxHealth is already doing telehealth services through parts of southwest Missouri and explained how it works.
"It’s a computer screen that connects a sexual assault nurse examiner in Springfield to the location that the patient is at, in the patient room," she said. "The sexual assault nurse examiner guides the bedside nurse at the location through the injury documentation, through the exam."
Batesel said, establishing a statewide system would mean no victim would have to wait to get an exam, or risk not having physical evidence of their assault.
The Senate bill would also establish a Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights, which would give victims the right to confidentiality with an advocate during the medical and legal processes.
“It’s too long of a process, it’s too arduous of a process to do it alone," said Bartel.
Bartel said she sometime has to fight for confidentiality between victims and advocates. The new bill would make that a right for survivors.
"Potentially anything that they say could be then shared in a courtroom and shared with the offender and their attorney," Bartel said.
Bartel said the long list of potential protections could help victims feel supported, and safe enough to tell their stories.
“I’m really optimistic that future generations will not have to experience the type of things that some of those in our history have had to endure,” Bartel said.
The bill will have to be passed by the Missouri House of Representatives before going to the Governor to be signed into law. The legislative session will continue in Jefferson City on Monday.
For more information on the bill Senators passed, click
For the light of the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights, click