A sexual assault survivor reached out to Senator Patty Murray after discovering not all hospitals are prepared for victims of sexual assault. Years later, they’re still fighting for change and trying move forward legislation that would help other victims.
“She's helping me get justice for people; the justice that I couldn't get,” said Leah Griffin who says she was raped in 2014.
“I went to the closest emergency room; they said, ‘we don't do rape kits here,' and so I went home. And unfortunately, that delay between the first ER and the second ER that I went to, in order to get that rape kit done, meant that prosecutors declined charges in my case.”
But her fight didn’t end there. Since that attack she’s worked to raise awareness about glaring gaps in the system, turning to Washington Senator Patty Murray for help.
Murray's office began examining the issue and requested a Governor Accountability Office report to assess the availability of trained examiners nationwide.
“Most hospitals don't have someone who is trained to deal with someone who has been sexually assaulted and most of them don't have rape kits, and what happened to her isn't unique,” said Murray of the GAO’s findings. “To me, that's so wrong.”
So Senator Murray wrote a bill called the Survivors Access to Supportive Care Act to help set federal standards for increasing access to sexual assault examinations and the special nurses who administer rape kits.
While the bill has stalled in Congress since it was introduced in 2016, Senator Murray did secure $8 million in new grant money in the budget that passed last week. The funding will go towards the training of sexual assault nurse examiners. Known as SANE nurses, they provide critical care and collection of evidence that can make the difference between a victim seeking justice.
“You need somebody who knows what they're doing. They need to be compassionate, and they need to be able to do the work they need to do to go after the perpetrator,” said Murray.
Senator Murray calls the new funding a start, but her larger bill would include a national report on the overall look at sexual assault services in the nation's health system.
“Right now we don't really even know how bad the problem is,” said Griffin who notes the problem is especially severe for rural communities, in Washington and nationwide.
“In Alaska, there are villages in the northern parts of Alaska, where a survivor would have to take two airplane rides, a minimum of 17 hours, in order to have access to a rape kit. That's unacceptable,” said Griffin.
She and Senator Murray have been in talks with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski with a request to cosponsor the legislation, so it has support from both sides of the aisle moving forward.
“It’s important to have bipartisan support on this,” said Griffin. “This isn't a partisan issue. This is something that we can all get behind, which is honestly really hopeful in this political climate.”
Senator Murray says she’s also working to gain support and cosponsors from male colleagues, both Democrat and Republican.
“I think they are recognizing that they have to be a part of the solution. This is not one of those issues where you go, 'oh, women will solve this,'" said Murray. "This is a 'we all are into this, and we all have to solve it.'"
Cosponsors from the initial introduction of the legislation in 2016 include Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Senator Michael Bennett, D-Colorado and Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.