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Lawmakers consider rape shield bill to protect victims

Championed by Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, lawmakers are considering a bill to further protect sexual assault victims by blocking information about prior sexual acts during the judicial process. 

Called a rape shield, the idea behind the legislation is to protect a victim’s privacy during a trial. 

Thompson Rehder’s SB 775 would make an alleged victim’s prior sexual acts, conduct, or practices inadmissible during court proceedings, including a trial or hearing, and not subject to inquiry during a deposition or discovery except in certain instances. 

“When someone has been sexually assaulted, it should be common sense that their prior sexual activity should not be taken into question. There is no excuse appropriate for sexually assaulting someone,” Thompson Rehder told The Missouri Times. “Unfortunately, we have found that some defense attorneys try to use these ‘slut shaming’ tactics when defending their clients, which in turn prevents many victims from coming forward and prosecuting because they have been through so much already.” 

“The outcome simply emboldens perpetrators to continue abusing,” she continued. 

The legislation was recently heard in the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. 

As the bill is written, exceptions include if prior conduct could provide evidence of immediate surrounding circumstances of the alleged crime or prove an alternative source of pregnancy or disease. 

Evidence of prior sexual acts, conducts, or practices can be admissible if a court finds it relevant to a material fact or issue, according to the legislation. 

“Survivor concerns over privacy and confidentiality are paramount when debating seeking supportive services or criminal justice remedies,” said Jennifer Carter Dochler, public policy director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “As recommended by The Missouri Rights of Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force, Missouri should ‘Modify statutes to further protect survivor privacy in public or court records.’ SB 775 does just that.”

The judiciary committee also heard two other bills pertaining to sexual violence last week. 

One from Sen. Jill Schupp would enact certain protections for victims of sexual violence during a criminal investigation — a measure similar to legislation signed into law in 2019 but was held up in court due to questions over a certain provision’s legality. 

Schupp’s bill establishes the right for victims to consult with an employee or volunteer at a rape crisis center, be interviewed by law enforcement officers or examined by a medical professional of the gender of their choice, and be assigned an interpreter if needed as reasonably available. Survivors would also be notified about the evidence tracking system. 

Additionally, her bill would also allow a victim of sexual assault to receive a change of clothing and the ability to shower at no cost. 

The other bill heard by the committee is from Sen. Mike Bernskoetter. That legislation would add individuals who have been convicted of possession of child pornography to the list of people who cannot knowingly be within 500 feet of playgrounds, schools, public pools, specific museums, and athletic fields used by children.