05.18.16

Murray, Democrats Introduce Critical Legislation to Improve and Expand Health Care Services for Survivors of Sexual Assault

SASCA would expand access to qualified examiner services and, for the first time, develop national standards of care for survivors of sexual assault

 

(Washington, D.C.) Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, along with Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), introduced the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA), legislation to provide guidance and support to states and to hospitals providing sexual assault examination services and treatment to survivors. Because data on the availability of sexual assault nurse examinations (SANE) and sexual assault forensic examinations (SAFE) is severely limited, SASCA would provide for state-level reviews of current practices in order to better understand care, develop best practices and guidelines, and provide public awareness of sexual assault examinations. SASCA also requires hospitals to report on SAFE/SANE training and access to medical forensic examinations.

 

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 by developing 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 healthcare services and treatment and address survivors’ needs.  

 

“When survivors of sexual assault seek medical care they should be offered the best information, services, and support available,” said Senator Murray. “Unfortunately, many states and hospitals are failing to provide survivors with access to quality care that is critical to their recovery and to holding perpetrators accountable. I’m proud to be introducing legislation that would help develop standards of health care and training in hospitals and medical settings nationwide, and I’m committed to continuing to push for better access and higher quality care for survivors of sexual assault in Washington state and across the country.”

 

Back in 2015, Senator Murray and colleagues requested a GAO Report investigating the availability of trained examiners on a national level. This report was officially released in March, and identified major flaws in survivor access to sexual assault examinations services. Specifically, the report showed 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, the report found no federal standards regarding access to and qualifications of trained forensic medical examiners. In response, the Senators sent a letter to Secretary Burwell and Attorney General Lynch, asking for a national taskforce to address the findings of this GAO Report and requesting immediate action addressing these service gaps for survivors of sexual assault.

 

“Hospitals across Washington State are committed to providing the best services possible to sexual assault survivors,” said Cassie Sauer, Executive Vice President, Washington State Hospital Association. “The Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act will provide important resources, education, and best practices for big and small hospitals across the country. Providing care to survivors requires specialized training, compassion, and understanding of important forensic practices. This new legislation would be a significant step forward, and we applaud Senator Murray’s leadership.”

                                                                                                                                                                              

“For years, UW Medicine through the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress (HCSATS) has worked to ensure that patients who are victims of sexual assault have access to the highest standard of medical care and forensic services.” said Lucy Berliner, director, HCSATS. “Senator Patty Murray has been tireless in advocating for these same standards on a national level. She has consistently fought and continues to fight to examine the gaps that exist in services, to increase resources for training and to set fundamental standards of care in support of victims of sexual assault across our nation.”

 

“The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence  wholeheartedly supports The ‘Survivors’ Right to Supportive Care Act’, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA),” said the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “Local programs see every day that a survivor's immediate experience can make the difference between starting the healing process and worsening the trauma. Survivors deserve accessible, competent care in the aftermath of rape, and this legislation will help make sure they receive it.”  

 

“The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs supports this important bill to increase survivor access to sexual assault examinations. Access to quality examinations and care is paramount to sexual assault survivors well-being, health and justice pursuits,” said the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.

 

“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,” said Jen Pierce-Weeks, Interim CEO of International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN).

 

Click HERE for bill text.  

Fact Sheet: Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA)

 

The Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care (SASCA) Act would:

 

Strengthen the sexual assault examiner workforce by evaluating state-level needs. On the basis of literature reviewed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), as well as interviews with experts and state officials, data on the number of examiners nationwide and in selected states are limited or unavailable. SASCA will provide for state-level surveys to better understand the availability of sexual assault examiners, the costs of training, the spectrum of state-training requirements and standards, and the status of funding at the state level for sexual assault examinations.

 

Develop and test national standards of care for victims of sexual assault. Currently, no federal programs exist for the sole purpose of expanding access to health care for survivors of sexual assault, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does not oversee any national standard or certification protocol for sexual assault examiners. SASCA will address both of these needs by directing HHS to establish a national training and continuing education program, to be tested and incorporated by health care providers nationwide, including in rural areas where access to sexual assault examinations is limited due to provider and hospital shortages.

 

Increase understanding of and access to sexual assault care nationwide. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2013 identified gender-based violence and sexual assault as ongoing threats to women, children, and families. SASCA will establish a pilot grant program to expand medical forensic exam training and services to new providers like physician assistants, as well as to Federally Qualified Health Centers and Title X funded clinics to expand access in rural areas. SASCA will also establish a national sexual assault taskforce of government agencies and key stakeholders to better understand sexual assault and address the needs of victims. This taskforce will additionally provide a best practices guide to treating survivors of sexual assault.

 

Increase access to SAFE/SANE services 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 student as well as information on transportation costs.

 

Create a new resource center to provide technical assistance to states and hospitals in 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. In addition, the center will facilitate interstate learning collectives to help share and learn best practices.

 

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