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Senate bundles legislation helping sexual assault victims: ‘One step closer to providing justice’

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate advanced what has become a bipartisan omnibus bill aimed at helping survivors of sexual violence Tuesday afternoon. 

“Victims of sexual assault can no longer be ignored,” Sen. Andrew Koenig, the bill sponsor, said. “Today, we are one step closer to providing justice for thousands of survivors of sexual violence.” 

Senators perfected Koenig’s SB 569, aimed at streamlining the process for testing rape kits and making it easier for victims to track the kits’ status. The bill was born following the Missouri attorney general’s audit last year of the more than 6,000 untested sexual assault kits in the state. 

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

On Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp also attached an amendment that would increase access to rape kits in the first place — an effort she’s led for more than a year. The measure creates a statewide telehealth network to mentor, train, and provide assistance to medical providers who are conducting forensic examinations, meaning hospitals wouldn’t necessarily have to be staffed with full-time Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) around the clock. 

A telehealth system would alleviate a possible additional burden placed on victims who seek treatment after an assault. Now, if a hospital cannot provide a rape kit, a victim might either forgo the examination or have to travel long distances, an experience that could be retraumatizing or contaminate evidence, Schupp has said. 

State Sen. Jill Schupp

The International Association of Forensic Nurses estimates less than 20 percent of hospitals in the country are equipped to provide rape kits — and the problem is worse in rural areas. 

“Modern technology can be used in today’s medical world, and it’s truly a wonder,” Schupp said. 

“I appreciate the bipartisan support my amendment received today to help make sure that victims of sexual assault get the specialized medical care they need following a traumatic and terrifying experience,” Schupp told The Missouri Times. “Furthermore, by ensuring that forensic evidence is properly collected under the guidance of trained professionals, we will help law enforcement catch these violent predators and achieve justice for survivors.”

Koenig said he’s “extremely proud” the bill was perfected Tuesday. 

“With this legislation, we can further protect victims of sexual assault and give them the resources and support they need to resolve their case,” the Republican senator said. “They deserve to know the status of their kit and be involved in this process. For far too long, victims of sexual assault have been treated like second class citizens, and especially so for victims whose kit is one of the thousands of untested SAFE kits sitting in hospitals and police departments across our state. Every victim of sexual assault deserves justice, and I believe this legislation is a step in the right direction.” 

Following the audit of untested rape kits in the state, Attorney General Eric Schmitt has made alleviating the backlog a priority. His office has been collecting kits from “host” cities and sending them to a private lab to be tested.