Murray, Murkowski to Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve and Expand Health Care Services for Survivors of Sexual Assault

SASCA reintroduced in Senate with more cosponsors than ever before

Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), will reintroduce 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. As the Senators announced SASCA’s reintroduction in the Senate, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Congressman Peter King (R-NY) are also working to reintroduce a bipartisan version in the House.

Senator Murray first introduced SASCA in 2016, after a constituent, Leah Griffin, shared her personal story of surviving a sexual assault and then struggling to get access to the health care services she need in order to seek justice—including a forensic examination.

“When a survivor of sexual assault goes to a hospital, they deserve respect, compassion, and a commitment to helping them get justice. That’s why it’s critical hospitals have staff trained to treat sexual assault survivors. But right now in this country, we know that is not always the case,” said Senator Murray. “When Leah Griffin reached out to my office and shared how she went to a hospital seeking care after a sexual assault only to be told no one there could administer a rape kit and she should go to another hospital, I was appalled. I introduced the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act to help make sure all survivors can get compassionate, experienced care that meets their needs and helps them hold perpetrators accountable. Thanks to Leah—who has been to D.C. countless times to share her story and advocate for this bill—we now have bipartisan support in the Senate and House, and I’m going to keep working with her to get this done for sexual assault survivors everywhere.”

“I’m pleased to work with Senator Murray to craft and reintroduce the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act. After collaborating closely with stakeholders in Alaska and Washington, we’ve developed significant legislation to help expand our network of forensic examiner providers across the state and nation, including in rural Alaska,” said Senator Murkowski. “American Indians and Alaska Natives are nearly twice as likely to experience sexual assault as other Americans—with Alaska facing some of the highest assault rates in the country. The heartbreaking reality is that more often than not sexual assault survivors are unable to develop a case against their attacker due to the lack of trained individuals to help collect the necessary forensic evidence. Each and every victim has the right to access care and to be given the opportunity to pursue justice. I hope our legislation sends a clear message to survivors — we stand with you.”

“After my rape, I was turned away from a hospital that did not provide rape kits. I eventually found a hospital that did, but that delay in care contributed to the prosecutor’s decision to decline charges in my case,” said Leah Griffin. “We have a justice system that demands empirical evidence to prosecute rape, but denies victims access to evidence collection. Today, Senators Murray and Murkowski reconfirm their commitment to passing the bipartisan Survivors Access to Supportive Care Act, signaling a meaningful step towards addressing the problems faced by too many survivors.”

“On behalf of the Consortium, we appreciate Senator Murkowski’s continued work in raising awareness and delivering resources to combat the high rates of sexual assault and violence in our communities,” said Roald Helgesen, CEO and Hospital Administrator of ANTHC. “Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the United States. For those residing in our rural communities, the remote location and lack of available transportation often combine to prohibit survivors from receiving timely access to essential sexual assault exams. The Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act will help by providing the training and resources necessary to address this violence, providing needed care for survivors, as well as help bring perpetrators to justice.”

SASCA would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a national training and continuing education pilot program to expand access to health care for survivors of sexual assault and develop federal standards around examinations and treatment. It would also establish a pilot grant program to expand medical forensic exam training and services to new providers to increase access, and create a national sexual assault taskforce to better understand sexual assault health care services and treatment and address survivors’ needs. To address the current lack of data on the availability of sexual assault nurse examinations (SANE) and sexual assault forensic examinations (SAFE), SASCA would provide for state-level review of current practices to better understand deficits in care, develop best practices, and improve public awareness of forensic examinations. SASCA would also require hospitals to report on SAFE/SANE training and access to these vital examinations.

“We need to do a better job in the U.S. of providing survivors of sexual assault access to necessary forensic nursing services,” said Sara Jennings, International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) President. “With the well-documented health consequences resulting from sexual violence, the IAFN strongly supports this legislation as it draws much needed attention to the health system response to sexual assault survivors. This legislation will assist states and health systems to be better prepared to care for survivors of assault.”

“The first person a survivor of sexual assault engages with after an assault has a significant effect on their path to healing and on whether they choose to pursue a case against their assailant and engage with the criminal justice system. As an organization that has made the elimination of the backlog of untested rape kits our number one priority since 2010, we see the availability and training of sexual assault nurse examiners as a critical issue that must get the attention it deserves” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation. “Joyful Heart is proud to be a long-time supporter of the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act, which would pave the way to critical reforms around survivor access to trained and compassionate sexual assault nurse examiners.”

“We are grateful to Senators Murkowski and Murray for their leadership on the Survivors Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA) that will expand access to training and resources for forensic nurses to provide survivors with trauma-informed medical care,” said Jodi Omear, RAINN Vice President of Communications. “Survivors are more likely to agree to sexual assault medical forensic examinations when they feel safe and supported by trained medical professionals, and these crucial examinations are key to preserving evidence essential for victims to seek justice.”

“EVAWI is proud to support this important legislation. Increasing the capacity of sexual assault forensic nurses and examiners will vastly improve sexual assault survivors’ access to professionals trained in both medical care and evidence collection,” said Ann Burdges, Board President of End Violence Against Women International.

“In Washington state and at the federal level we are very supportive of the effort to establish best practices for SANE nurse training,” said Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association. “Access to highly trained SANE nurses is critical for survivors of sexual assault and to ensure evidence is properly collected.”

SASCA has been endorsed by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, RAINN, the International Association of Forensic Nurses, the Joyful Heart Foundation, End Violence Against Women International, the Academy of Forensic Nurses, the Washington State Hospital Association, Harborview Medical Center, and UW Medicine.

Click HERE for text of the bill.

Click HERE for fact sheet.

Background: In August 2018, Senator Murkowski penned and editorial on the need for the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA) in a rural state like Alaska.