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Amid coronavirus and budget talks, Senate advances bill to help sexual assault victims


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri General Assembly convened in the capital city Monday with a focus on the budget and coronavirus-relief efforts. But amid the COVID-19 discussions, the state Senate unanimously approved a bill with a bevy of protections for sexual assault survivors. 

With most wearing masks, senators third read and passed SB 569 in a 31-0 vote. From Sen. Andrew Koenig, the legislation includes provisions to streamline the rape kit testing process, provide a statewide telehealth service to ensure hospitals are properly staffed with health care workers who can conduct forensic exams, and establish certain protections for victims. 

“Even in the midst of this global pandemic, we cannot forget the victims of sexual violence,” Koenig told The Missouri Times. “Their voices have been silenced for too long. Today, their voices are finally being heard.” 

The bill now heads to the House where it will need approval before it can be sent to the governor. 

Koenig’s bill, which he’s championed throughout this legislative session, was a product of an audit from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office conducted last year. The audit discovered more than 6,000 untested sexual assault kits throughout the state, and Attorney General Eric Schmitt has made testing those kits a priority. 

But the bill grew to include the “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.” From GOP Sen. David Sater, the measure establishes certain protections for victims, including the right to consult with a counselor or support person during the tedious medical and legal process that comes with reporting such crimes. It also protects a victim from having to pay for a rape kit and ensures communications between a counselor and survivor are privileged. 

Sen. Jill Schupp’s bill that sought to create a statewide telehealth system to mentor, train, and provide assistance to medical providers conducting forensic exams was also added to Koenig’s SB 569. A telehealth system would alleviate a potential additional burden placed on victims who seek treatment after an assault: Now, if a hospital cannot provide a rape kit, a victim might have to travel long distances or forgo the examination entirely, Schupp has said. 

The telehealth network is an effort she’s led for more than a year. 

“With unanimous Senate support, we were able to create a package of legislation that will help bring justice for survivors of sexual assault,” Schupp told The Missouri Times. “This package included my legislation, the Justice for Survivors Act, to help ensure survivors get the compassionate and proper forensic exam they need under the guidance of trained professionals. This important policy will help law enforcement catch these violent predators.”

“Victims of sexual assault often don’t receive the justice they deserve,” Jennifer Carter Dochler, public policy director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV), said. “Missouri continues its commitment to do better by victims with the Senate passing SB 569 on its first day back in session.”

In a tweet following Monday’s vote, Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said, “Great news! Thanks to [Koenig, Schmitt, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, and the MCADSV], and so many others who are working hard to bring light to this issue.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, the MCADSV has released a resource guide for those who might need it. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.