Murray, Murkowski, Jayapal Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Sexual Assault Survivors

Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) re-introduced the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA), a bipartisan, bicameral bill to help improve and expand access to health care services for survivors of sexual assault who face steep challenges in being able to obtain medical care and sexual assault examinations critical to their ability to seek justice. The bill will develop national standards of care for survivors of sexual assault, strengthen the sexual assault examiner workforce, and expand access to sexual assault examination services—including to rural and Tribal communities, and for higher education students.

To help highlight the importance of the bill, Senator Murray, Senator Murkowski, and Representative Jayapal hosted a media availability, which included remarks from: Washington state constituent Leah Griffin, sexual assault reform advocate and survivor; Jennifer Pierce-Weeks, Executive Director for the International Association of Forensic Nurses; and Alaska constituent Tara Henry, MSN, FNP-C, SANE-A, SANE-P with 24 years of forensic nursing experience.  

SASCA 2021 Image

Click here for video of the full press conference.

A fact sheet on the bill, is available HERE.

Full bill text is available HERE.

“In 2014, when Leah shared her story with me about getting turned away from a hospital after a sexual assault, I was horrified that someone would go to seek care—and justice—and be told ‘not here’ or ‘try somewhere else,’” said Senator Murray. “When a survivor of sexual assault goes to a hospital, they deserve compassionate, experienced care that will help them get the justice they deserve. Survivors like Leah, and far too many across the country, have already been waiting too long for change—it’s past time that we get this bipartisan legislation across the finish line.”  

“Alaska has the unfortunate reality of being the most dangerous state in the country for women, particularly for Alaska Native women. In addition to high rates of sexual assault, many of our rural communities have no law enforcement or access to hospital care, which is a plane ride away. It is unacceptable that victims in either urban or rural Alaska face numerous challenges when accessing a sexual assault forensic exam. I’m proud to join Senator Murray in reintroducing the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act, legislation to improve and expand access to healthcare services for survivors of sexual assault. No victim of sexual violence should have to wait for proper care from medical professionals for any reason. I will continue to push to ensure all victims of sexual assault have a path to justice—regardless of where they live,” said Senator Murkowski.

“Inspired by Seattle’s Leah Griffin and written on behalf of survivors across America, the Survivors Access to Supportive Care Act is bipartisan, bicameral legislation that urgently expands access to supports and services for survivors of sexual assault and finally establishes national standards of care,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “As we commit to ending gender-based violence and sexual assault throughout this country, it’s long overdue that we address gaps in resources that have left too many survivors without the ability to get the care and justice they deserve.”

“When a victim does not have access to a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, they lose access to healthcare and justice. No survivor should be denied a nurse, or have to travel long distances to find one,” said Leah Griffin.

For survivors who make the difficult decision to disclose their assault, a key part of their ability to seek justice is having access to sexual assault nurse examinations (SANE) or sexual assault forensic examinations (SAFE). But too often, hospitals don’t have appropriately trained staff or resources on site and survivors are denied the care that is critical to holding their perpetrators accountable.

In 2016, a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also found a disturbing lack, and in some cases a complete absence, of information and data on the number of sexual assault examiners in most states. Additionally, GAO found no federal standards regarding access to and qualifications of trained forensic medical examiners.

To address these challenges and help get survivors the care—and justice—they deserve, the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA) would:

  • Strengthen the sexual assault examiner workforce by evaluating state-level needs. SASCA will authorize $2 million per year for state-level surveys to better understand barriers the availability of sexual assault examiners, the costs of training, and the spectrum of state-training requirements and standard.
  • Develop and test national standards of care for survivors of sexual assault. Currently the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does not oversee any national standard or certification protocol for sexual assault examiners. SASCA directs HHS to establish a pilot training and continuing education program, to be tested and incorporated by health care providers nationwide.
  • Increase understanding of and access to sexual assault care nationwide. SASCA establishes a national sexual assault taskforce of government agencies and key stakeholders to better understand sexual assault and address the gaps in care for survivors.
  • Expand access to SAFE/SANE services. SASCA requires that hospitals provide information about their capacity to provide sexual assault care and services to survivors, and calls for states to establish and keep updated online maps of where survivors can access SAFE/SANE Services. SASCA will also establish a pilot grant program to expand medical forensic exam training and services to new providers.
  • Increase access for rural and tribal communities. SASCA provides training grants to entities that serve rural and tribal communities and calls for the development of tools and best practices that will address the unique features and cultural sensitivities within these communities.
  • Increase access for students. SASCA will require that institutions of higher education make students aware of SAFE/SANE services on campus, including by providing information on the nearest hospital with SAFE/SANE services for students as well as information on transportation costs.
  • Create a new resource center for states and hospitals providing care to survivors. SASCA will create a new resource center, available to any hospital receiving federal funds, which aims to support access to sexual assault forensic examinations and encourage training.

The bill has been endorsed by: the International Association of Forensic Nurses, the Washington State Hospital Association, American College of Nurse-Midwives, Joyful Heart Foundation, End Rape on Campus, End Violence Against Women International, RAINN, and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.