Help for Sexual Assault Victims

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Democrats in the House of Representatives are moving forward with their so-called “impeachment inquiry” into President Trump, but others of us in the House know that important work remains to be done on behalf of the American people.

On the morning of October 23rd, frustrated Republicans rightfully demanded access to impeachment information. Several actually entered the room where, behind guarded doors, testimony was to be heard. While this was taking place, I was participating in a subcommittee hearing where important matters, including rural health care, were being discussed with the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

While the House majority has thrown all its effort into the supposed inquiry, it has neglected other vital matters. One of these was the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act, legislation I had cosponsored.

The Debbie Smith Act, first passed in 2004, provides grants to state and local jurisdictions to analyze DNA samples, helping to reduce the backlog of unprocessed rape kits. As the Government Accountability Office found a backlog of 169,000 DNA samples from crime scenes awaiting analysis in 2017, reauthorizing the program should have been a priority. Based on previous strong bipartisan support for the program, it would have been a priority easily accomplished.

Nevertheless, authorization for the funding expired at the beginning of the month. While the Senate had unanimously passed the reauthorization months ago, House leadership only put it up for a vote on October 23rd. When the bill came to the floor, only one Member of Congress voted in opposition.

The Democrat fixation on impeachment needlessly delayed action on this important resource for combating sexual assault.

Reauthorizing the Debbie Smith Act was a step in the right direction, but there are more legislative solutions on the table to support sexual assault victims.

In the wake of a sexual assault, a victim should be able to receive treatment from a trained professional. An untrained provider might unintentionally worsen the trauma inflicted by the assault.

Further, it is essential to preserve evidence as soon as possible in these cases. Forensic tests are constantly improving, but timeliness is still necessary.

A shortage of proper resources and trained professionals can fail sexual assault victims and increase the difficulty of finding their assailants. Unfortunately, such a shortage exists in Virginia.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch recently reported on a study finding that victims of sexual assault in the Commonwealth frequently have to search out hospitals, sometimes traveling for hours, to access sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kits, commonly referred to as rape kits, that are administered by specially-trained sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs). Lack of access to SAFE kits and SANEs leads to a severe underreporting of sexual assaults – according to the study, fewer than half of victims in Virginia report them.

In the last Congress, the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on shortages of these resources and personnel. The information I heard led me to cosponsor legislation on the subject led by then-Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX). Congressman Poe retired from the House at the end of the last term, so when I read about the Virginia study, I was moved to reintroduce the legislation in this Congress myself.

This bill, the Sexual Assault Victims Protection Act, would establish a task force to identify barriers that currently block access to assistance for sexual assault victims. It also would help states improve their ability to collect evidence and require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to publicize resources and best practices for responding to sexual assault.

I also wrote a letter to every member of the House explaining the bill and to ask them to join me in sponsoring it.

I hope that the House will act on the Sexual Assault Victims Protection Act. It is a commonsense bill that would help bring to justice perpetrators of sexual assault and alleviate some of the trauma caused by that crime.

While impeachment distracts the House majority, we must not lose sight of the many real difficulties felt in the lives of Americans.

For questions, concerns, or comments, call the Abingdon office at (276) 525-1405, Christiansburg office at (540) 381-5671, Washington office at (202) 225-3861, or via email at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.