Sen. Patty Murray is co-sponsoring the Survivor’s Access to Supportive Care Act that, if passed, would fund state-level surveys to better understand sexual assault and rape survivors' access to health care, and develop and test a national standard of care.
Three hours she sat in her car, waiting for a police officer to come and take a report. Three hours.
There wasn’t a crime in progress; no one was bleeding or trapped anywhere. She had been told by police to drive into Seattle city limits to file a police report alleging she had been raped four years earlier. So she waited.
The woman was one of two to accuse Seattle nightlife entrepreneur David Meinert of rape, while three others accused him of sexual misconduct, in a story written by KUOW’s Sydney Brownstone, whose patient, painstaking reporting on sexual assault in Seattle has helped put another man in jail.
Meinert denied to KUOW the allegations of rape and assault. He did say, in a lengthy Facebook post that has since been deleted, that “I have been pushy and continued to make advances when I should have understood they were not welcome.”
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The idea of the woman waiting in the car for an officer to arrive and take her report feels like just one more log in the fire that has burned for generations; a fire that women gather around and glare into while we tell our stories of assault and abuse. Then we step away and carry on, dulling the anger and hurt with hard work or invisible walls, workouts, drinks, drugs, isolation. Or we fight back with things like political campaigns or T-shirts that say it all.
There are plenty of other things to keep the fire going when it comes to sexual assault; issues that progress of the #MeToo movement, just maybe, will change.
For starters: When a woman is raped, and manages to get herself to the hospital to be examined, there’s no guarantee that there will be a sexual-assault examiner nurse to help her and process a rape kit.
A Government Accountability Report done in 2015 at the behest of Sen. Patty Murray found that many hospitals don’t offer sexual-assault care services. Even the International Association of Forensic Nurses acknowledged “major flaws” in survivor access to sexual-assault examination and a “disturbing lack, and in some cases a complete absence” of information and data on the number of sexual-assault examiners in most states.
Murray is now co-sponsoring the Survivor’s Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA) that, if passed, would fund state-level surveys to better understand survivors’ access to health care, and develop and test a national standard of care.
“I had no idea that if you were raped and went to the hospital that you could be told there is no one there to help you,” Murray told me. “I was stunned. You can’t put any barriers in the way to get justice or care.”
Oh, if only that were true, Senator.
Even if a survivor does find a hospital that offers sexual-assault services, the rape kit will most likely sit in a police evidence room, waiting to be processed, along with an estimated 6,000 untested kits that have sat for years, sometimes decades, in Washington state. It wasn’t until last fall that the state received $3 million in federal funding to ease the backlog. About 345 kits have been processed since.
If a survivor decides to file a police report, well, that has its tangles, too. People in Washington state have just one year to report the crime to police, and 10 years to press charges. If the survivor doesn’t file a police report within a year, the time to press charges drops to three years.
Last February, a bill in the state Senate would have lifted the statute of limitations for adult rape victims; they would have had all the time they needed. Instead, lawmakers amended the bill to lift the statute of limitations only for survivors reporting child rape or child molestation. The bill made it out of committee, but died on the Senate floor.
Another log on the fire.
Seeing these roadblocks removed — give survivors easier access to qualified sexual-assault care services; collecting and processing rape kits in a timely manner, and giving them the time they need to file police reports and press charges — would go a long way to treating them as they deserve.
And it would send a message to sexual predators that there is a system in place that supports survivors; that doesn’t just collect evidence and takes reports, but tends to them, and understands that they have been traumatized, and changed.
As for those who have already been hurt, for whom the time to file criminal charges has run out, well, there’s this: Civil lawsuits.
The statute of limitations may have passed for survivors to get justice in criminal court, but there’s nothing stopping them from filing civilly, which would require the alleged rapist to testify in court and, if they lose, pay for what they did.
Something to consider while you’re sitting in your car for three hours, waiting for the justice that doesn’t seem to have the time, or resources, to help you.