Closer Look: RAINN’s Public Policy Team

In honor of RAINN’s 25th anniversary, each month we’ll be taking a closer look at the people and programs that are essential in our work to help survivors today and every day. This month, we’re shining a spotlight on RAINN’s public policy team.

RAINN’s policy team works at federal and state levels to improve the criminal justice system, prevent sexual assault, and ensure justice for survivors.

The team works closely with members of Congress and the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health & Human Services to improve the federal response to sexual violence. Federally, one of RAINN’s biggest priorities is the Debbie Smith Act, which ensures crime labs are able to process untested rape kits nationwide.

"We partner with legislators on both sides of the aisle to raise awareness, advocate for legislative reforms, and enact laws to ensure that all survivors—no matter where they live in the U.S.—have access to justice,” says Jackii Wang, policy associate at RAINN. “It's so important that survivors continue to have a voice on Capitol Hill, which is why we pride ourselves on the work we do."

RAINN also provides subject matter expertise and legal commentary in high impact legal cases, including the recent amicus brief in Bill Cosby’s re-trial to show a pattern of predatory drug-facilitated sexual assault.

“This amicus brief was important because we have special perspective as the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. We wanted to ensure that Cosby’s other victims had a voice in supporting Andrea Constand and were able to help hold their perpetrator accountable,” says Mark Katherine Burke, legislative policy counsel at RAINN. “We also hope that the legal and public policy arguments in our brief may influence future legal decisions in Pennsylvania and other states that are prosecuting serial sexual perpetrators.”

Though RAINN’s federal policy work is essential to ensure justice for survivors, most rape prosecutions take place in state, not federal, courts.

“All 50 states have their own set of criminal laws and for any crime may be prosecuted differently across state lines,” says Camille Cooper, vice president of public policy at RAINN. “Because of the variation of how the same case is treated in one state or another, it’s crucial that we ensure each state has victim-centered and up-to-date laws.”

That’s why RAINN’s policy team is working hard with state lawmakers across the nation; the top priority is to ensure that statutes of limitations laws in each state are not denying survivors justice.

Forty-two states still have statutes of limitations laws on criminal sexual assault cases. That means that if a survivor does not pursue legal action within a certain time frame, they will at some point lose the ability to do so.

“We’ve been working primarily in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, New Hampshire, and Indiana,” says Sean Holihan, policy manager, federal and state campaigns.“These states have been targeted because we’d like to eliminate their statutes of limitations for felony-level sexual assault crimes.”

RAINN works closely with sheriffs, state police, chiefs of police, prosecutors, victim advocates and survivors in these states. “These are people with incredible institutional knowledge and connections to state legislators. We always reach out to them first because they’re the ones who make changes happen in their communities,” explains Holihan.

The work RAINN’s policy team does is essential to ending sexual violence—but it isn’t enough by itself. To end sexual violence it needs to be addressed in multiple ways. That’s why every day, RAINN works to champion policy; educate the public; consult with organizations to improve their prevention and response practices, and provides 24/7, confidential, anonymous direct services through our National Sexual Assault Hotline.

“People underestimate the power of their voices,” says Cooper. “Most people don’t take the time to send a letter, email, or call their representatives...but in some cases it only takes five people saying the same thing to a member of Congress to really bring that issue to their attention. They need to hear from you.”

To learn more about the laws in your state regarding consent, statutes of limitations, and other issues affecting survivors of sexual assault, visit RAINN’s state law database. Follow RAINN’s Policy Twitter @rainnaction.

Eight out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone who knows the victim.

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