For Rape Survivors, The Judicial System Can Feel Like A Second Attack

For rape survivors, the judicial system can feel like a second attack. How rapes are investigated and prosecuted varies widely from state to state. Amanda Nguyen, founder of the group Rise, is trying to correct that. In an interview with the New York Times, Nguyen talked about her work advocating changes in both state and federal law.

“The greatest injustice I have ever faced was not the act of rape itself, but rather, the subsequent denial of my rights… As a survivor, I learned that not all are equal in the eyes of the law.”

In Massachusetts, rape kits are kept only six months. Nguyen, a rape survivor, is required twice a year to request an extension so that the biological evidence from her attacker is not destroyed. Nguyen explained to Broadly that maintaining evidence varies geographically, forcing rape survivors to not only relive an experience they’d like to put behind them, but act as their own advocates instead of relying on the police to keep the case active.

“The six-month rule makes me live my life by date of rape… Had I been raped in a state like California, Colorado, Illinois, or Texas, this wouldn’t happen to me. Those states have civil rights measures that don’t allow the destruction of evidence before the statute of limitations. Justice shouldn’t be dependent on geography. It’s completely unconscionable that a survivor in one state would have a completely different set of rights than a survivor in another state.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 20 percent of American women and two percent of men are rape survivors, according to an article in USA Today. Because many rape survivors are too frightened or too ashamed to go to the police, many suspect the statistics are actually higher.

The website Mother Jones explained how rape laws vary from state to state. Indiana has no statute of limitations for Class A Felony Rape, but a five year statute of limitations for Class B Felony Rape. In Minnesota, the statute of limitations is only three years. Kansas eliminated all statutes of limitations for rape in 2013. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jon R. Zug of Charlottesville, Virginia, explained to the University of Virginia Law School that rape is one of the most difficult types of cases to prosecute.

Using DNA tests can help convict rapists and clear the falsely accused. Unfortunately, rape kits only work if they’re actually used. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for rape is fifteen years, but rape kits are thrown out after six months unless the rape survivor requests otherwise. In Memphis, Tennessee, over 12,000 rape kits are waiting to be tested. WREG Channel 3 reported that some are so old that the accused rapists are asking to have the cases thrown out. Adding insult to injury, Slate reports that 13 states charge rape survivors for the testing fees for rape kits.

Contrary to what Todd Akins said in 2012, the Huffington Post reports approximately 32,000 rape survivors become pregnant every year. In some states, rapists have visitation rights to children conceived through rape, forcing rape survivors to maintain an 18-year relationship with their attacker.

Nguyen is working with bipartisan legislators, including former Attorney General Martha Coakley, Boston Council President Michelle Wu, State Rep. Farley Bouvier, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and former RNC Co-Chair Ann Wagner, to change the laws, so that rape survivors in any jurisdiction will have the same rights, and so that the judicial system won’t make rape survivors jump through a series of vaguely-defined hoops in order to find justice.

Rape survivors have already faced one horrendous experience. Why does the judicial system make rape survivors face another one to bring their rapists to justice?

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]