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Legislature to consider adding certain rights for victims of sexual violence

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Legislature will again consider legislation enacting certain rights for victims of sexual violence during a criminal investigation. 

Gov. Mike Parson signed into law in 2019 a bill adding greater protections for sexual assault victims, but the legality of one section of the measure is still in court. 

That provision, championed by then-Sen. David Sater, a Republican, was the “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.” That version included defense attorneys in the list of people who must inform a victim of his or her rights laid out in the statute. 

The new version, from Sen. Jill Schupp this year, establishes certain rights for victims of sexual assault, including the right 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. 

Defense attorneys were removed from the portion which states appropriate medical providers, law enforcement officers, and prosecuting attorneys must inform a victim of these rights. 

“We need this. This is really going to help people,” Schupp said in an interview. 

Schupp was a member of the Missouri Rights of Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force, created by that 2019 legislation, and recalled one person who testified before the committee who said she did not consider herself a “survivor” but a “victim.” 

“I am a wife and mother of four. I come to you as a victim of sexual assault. Some say they are survivors but I’m not yet. I’m a victim of the perpetrator, a victim of the justice system, and a victim of not knowing the right people,” the person said. 

“I get chills every time I think about it. All of these people who have been assaulted, I’m sure they all handle it differently, but I’m also sure it forever changes them,” Schupp said. “We want to make the experience of something horrific, coming off of that as positive and as helpful as we possibly can and as helpful to law enforcement and those who will pursue justice by pursuing the perpetrator.” 

The task force — which included lawmakers, law enforcement, medical representatives, and attorneys, among others — said Missouri needs to work to ensure victims have access to a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and are able to properly obtain a medical forensic examination along with diagnostic testing, treatment, and prophylactic needs arising from a sexual assault at no cost. 

It also recommended putting in safeguards to ensure a victim’s privacy in court and other public records. 

The report, sent to the governor and legislature earlier this year, was unanimously approved by the task force. 

“We all worked long hours and hard together to get something really thoughtful and helpful done,” Schupp, a Democrat from St. Louis County, said. “They were dedicated to making things better, and when you put together a task force, this is exactly the kind of work that you want to see get done.” 

“I’m proud of the group, I’m proud to have been able to be a part of it, and I think that the work that we did is really, really good work and important work,” she added. 

The 2019 legislation also included a process for streamlining the testing of rape kits and making it easier for victims to track the kits’ status. A spokesperson for Attorney General Eric Schmitt said the office is working on creating an effective and secure tracking system. 

Schupp had a provision in that bill as well to increase access to SANE officials through a telehealth service. The foundation for that network is in the works. 

Schupp’s SB 640 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.