RAINN Policy Team is Championing Change in State Legislatures

As many states wrap up their 2021 legislative sessions, RAINN’s public policy team has scored a number of victories as they work to champion changes in state policies to support survivors, improve relations between survivors and police, and help more survivors seek justice.

RAINN’s team of lobbyists this year focused on legislatures in five states—Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia—partnering with local sexual assault prevention advocates, sexual assault coalitions, prosecutors, law enforcement associations, and survivors.

“The United States is a patchwork of state laws,” says Camille Cooper, RAINN vice president of public policy. “But there are some common threads through all this work like making sure survivors have access to a survivor-centered, trauma-informed law enforcement response, and making sure that trauma-informed care is available, regardless of where they live. We know healing from sexual assault takes time, and we want to make sure survivors have the option to pursue justice when they feel ready to do so.”

In Florida, RAINN passed legislation (H.B. 1189) that will create sexual assault response teams across the state and require trauma-informed victim-interviewing training for law enforcement. RAINN teamed up with former state Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff from Becker-Poliakoff and worked with RAINN Speakers Bureau member Kat Duesterhaus, who provided advocacy and testimony, along with members of the Gainesville Police Department to pass this legislation, which was sponsored by Reps. Randy Fine and Tracie Davis and Sen. Lauren Book. In addition, RAINN contributed to efforts to pass H.B. 673, or “Gail’s Law,” led by the bill’s namesake, RAINN Speakers Bureau member Gail Gardner, the Joyful Heart Foundation and survivors’ advocate Carol Wick, to establish a statewide rape kit tracking system.

“We couldn’t have passed these bills without the tireless advocacy of survivors and supporters in Florida,” said Daphne Pellegrino, RAINN’s policy and grassroots coordinator. “We saw a huge online push that made all the difference in getting H.B. 1189 out of committee and over the finish line when it looked like the clock was going to run out. The voices of survivors and those who support them have so much power at the state level. We wouldn’t be successful without their support and all the attention they brought to the issue.”

In Georgia, RAINN partnered with Rep. Scott Holcomb and the Joyful Heart Foundation to pass legislation (H.B. 255) to implement a statewide rape kit tracking system, require state law enforcement to participate in the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, and change the state legal code to recode “uncooperative victim” to “choosing not to report to law enforcement,” a more survivor-centered approach.

In Indiana, RAINN partnered with Senate Majority Whip Michael Crider on two successful bills: one that requires trauma-informed victim-interview training for law enforcement and another to strengthen professional standards for sexual assault nurse examiners.

In Virginia, the RAINN team helped remove (H.B. 1867) the requirement that adult victims of sexual assault report to police within five days in order to receive assistance from the Virginia Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund. RAINN also supported the creation of a Virginia Crime Commission study to look at girls in the juvenile justice system with trauma histories.

“Black and Brown girls are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system,” said Erin Earp, RAINN’s legislative policy counsel. “The majority of these girls have trauma histories and are coming into the system on status offenses like truancy, running away and drinking, all behaviors associated with trauma. A RAINN-supported criminal justice study will be taken up by the Crime Commission in 2022. For status offenses and non-violent offenses like truancy and running away, girls with trauma histories should receive care, not incarceration.”

After partnering with the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative and RTI to pilot trauma-informed training for law enfocement in Ohio, the RAINN policy team is working with state advocates to draft legislation to establish sexual assault protocols and a statewide Sexual Assault Response Team Commission.

In addition to RAINN’s work in these five states, RAINN partnered with West Virginia Sen. Mike Woelfel by helping draft and support his legislation in his state to implement trauma-informed victim-interview training for law enforcement. His bill, S.B. 434, has been signed into law. RAINN also supported the passage of a resolution in Hawaii that will provide for the collection of needed data to shed light on the epidemic of missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women and girls.

For more on RAINN’s policy work or to look up laws in your state, visit https://www.rainn.org/public-policy-action.

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