In 2014, Leah Griffin of Seattle says she was raped and went to the closest hospital for a rape kit, only to be turned away. “They looked at me and shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘We don’t dohere,'” Griffin recounted.
Griffin says she later went to a second hospital that did administer the special examination to collect and preserve forensic evidence, but because of the delay in care, her case was never prosecuted.
Now, she’s fighting for justice of a different kind, national legislation to expand access to services for survivors of sexual assault. “Essentially we have a system that requires empirical evidence from survivors of sexual assault and then denies us access to that evidence collection,” said Griffin.
Following her experience, Griffin reached out to Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, who soon discovered the problem exists nationwide.
“Not all hospitals have rape kits. Many hospitals don’t have trained personnel who know what to do with a victim of sexual assault and don’t realize the potential of harm if they don’t deal with them correctly, both compassionately from a health care perspective and from the perspective of getting justice at the end of the day,” Murray told CBS News.
A Government Accountability Office report in 2016, requested by Senator Murray, also discovered a severe lack of information surrounding the issue, as well as a shortage of resources.
The GAO report studied six states and found the number of examiners does not meet the need, especially in rural areas.
“It has caused an environment, I think, in parts of rural Alaska where, where women who have become victims just give up,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Murkowski says in some parts of her state, it requires a plane ride to obtain a rape examination. “So that woman who has just been violated is told, ‘Don’t bathe; don’t change your clothes. Sit here until we can arrange for a flight out,'” detailed Murkowski. “And, it’s not as if there’s any helicopter access. When I say a flight out, that individual, that woman may be sitting there waiting for a day.”
Murkowski is now a co-sponsor of a bill Senator Murray wrote to address the issue: The Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA), making the effort bipartisan.
The legislation would study the problem nationwide, since the true scope is not even known. It would also establish national standards of care for survivors of sexual assault and expand access to services, including the specialized nurses who administer rape examinations.
SASCA would require hospitals to provide information about their capacity to provide sexual assault care and would provide training grants to organizations that serve rural and tribal communities.
According to the International Association of Forensic Nurses, it’s estimated only 17 to 20 percent of hospitals have sexual assault nurse examiners on staff.
“What I’m hearing from hospitals is well there’s a cost,” said Senator Murray. “Yeah, there’s a cost. But there’s a cost to every individual who is raped, sexually assaulted and doesn’t get their health care and doesn’t get justice.”
Senator Murray believes her bill has new momentum this year, especially in the era of. Leah Griffin, who continues to advocate for the legislation, says she’ll keep working until the system changes.
“People really understand that this is a problem and it’s not a controversial one. If a rape survivor goes to the hospital she shouldn’t be turned away without access to evidence collection,” said Griffin.
In addition to Murray and Murkowski, SASCA’s current list of co-sponsors include presidential candidates Senators Kamala Harris, D-California, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, as well as Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.