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Senators Murray, Murkowski Aim to Improve and Expand Health Care Services for Survivors of Sexual Assault

February 8, 2019 by TWN Staff
Physician Tammy Tran, who works in R-Health's primary-care clinic at Clemens Food Group in Hatfield, examining patient Sheldon Jones.

This week, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), reintroduced the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA), a bipartisan, bicameral bill to help improve and expand access to health care services for survivors of sexual assault. As the Senators announced SASCA’s reintroduction in the Senate, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Congressman Peter King (R-NY) are also working to reintroduce a bipartisan version in the House.

A 2016 GAO report requested by Senator Murray found major barriers for survivors seeking care after sexual assault. Senator Murray first introduced SASCA in 2016, after a constituent, Leah Griffin, shared her personal story of surviving a sexual assault and then struggling to get access to the health care services she need in order to seek justice—including a forensic examination.

SASCA would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a national training and continuing education pilot program to expand access to health care for survivors of sexual assault and develop federal standards around examinations and treatment. It would also establish a pilot grant program to expand medical forensic exam training and services to new providers to increase access, and create a national sexual assault taskforce to better understand sexual assault health care services and treatment and address survivors’ needs. To address the current lack of data on the availability of sexual assault nurse examinations (SANE) and sexual assault forensic examinations (SAFE), SASCA would provide for state-level review of current practices to better understand deficits in care, develop best practices, and improve public awareness of forensic examinations. SASCA would also require hospitals to report on SAFE/SANE training and access to these vital examinations.

“When a survivor of sexual assault goes to a hospital, they deserve respect, compassion, and a commitment to helping them get justice. That’s why it’s critical hospitals have staff trained to treat sexual assault survivors. But right now in this country, we know that is not always the case,” said Senator Murray. “When Leah Griffin reached out to my office and shared how she went to a hospital seeking care after a sexual assault only to be told no one there could administer a rape kit and she should go to another hospital, I was appalled. I introduced the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act to help make sure all survivors can get compassionate, experienced care that meets their needs and helps them hold perpetrators accountable. Thanks to Leah—who has been to D.C. countless times to share her story and advocate for this bill—we now have bipartisan support in the Senate and House, and I’m going to keep working with her to get this done for sexual assault survivors everywhere.”

“I’m pleased to work with Senator Murray to craft and reintroduce the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act. After collaborating closely with stakeholders in Alaska and Washington, we’ve developed significant legislation to help expand our network of forensic examiner providers across the state and nation, including in rural Alaska,” said Senator Murkowski. “American Indians and Alaska Natives are nearly twice as likely to experience sexual assault as other Americans—with Alaska facing some of the highest assault rates in the country. The heartbreaking reality is that more often than not sexual assault survivors are unable to develop a case against their attacker due to the lack of trained individuals to help collect the necessary forensic evidence. Each and every victim has the right to access care and to be given the opportunity to pursue justice. I hope our legislation sends a clear message to survivors — we stand with you.”

SASCA has been endorsed by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, RAINN, the International Association of Forensic Nurses, the Joyful Heart Foundation, End Violence Against Women International, the Academy of Forensic Nurses, the Washington State Hospital Association, Harborview Medical Center, and UW Medicine.

The Senate bill was introduced with more cosponsors than ever before, as Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) all signed onto it.

Full text of the legislation can be found here and a fact sheet can be found here.

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