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Harvard-Inspired Sexual Assault Response Bill Passes in House of Representatives

By Jalin P. Cunningham, Crimson Staff Writer

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a Harvard-inspired bill to preserve rights of sexual assault victims, bringing the legislation one step closer to law.

The legislation, called the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, compiles individual states’ best practices for responding to cases of alleged sexual assault to create federal standards. Specifically, the legislation would give victims further rights regarding rape kits, including ensuring a kits’ security and preservation before the “ the expiration of the maximum applicable statute of limitations.”

The bill was in part drafted and sponsored by Rise, an anti-sexual advocacy group whose founder, Harvard alumnae Amanda N. Nguyen ’13, decided to look into discrepancies in states’ procedure when handling sexual assault. Nguyen founded Rise in 2014 after becoming frustrated with how Massachusetts’s sexual assault procedures affected her own individual case. Nguyen emphasized that in order to keep her rape kit from being destroyed, she had to call a forensic lab every six months—per state regulations.

The federal bill comes after Harvard students helped draft Massachusetts-specific legislation last winter. Rise’s Massachusetts director Fran F. Swanson ’17 said last January that students sought help from scholars at Harvard Law School, the Kennedy School of Government, and Institute of Politics for research behind the bill, which is now currently pending in the Massachusetts legislature.

Nguyen said she was pleased that the bill has made it this far.

“It is so possible to change your community, your state, your country,” Nguyen said. “It is so possible to enact change.”

The bill must now be signed by President Barack Obama in order to become law.

Both the state and federal bills come as Harvard grapples with policy and procedure around sexual assault. The government is currently investigating the College’s compliance with anti-federal sex discrimination law Title IX it, and in 2014, the government found the Law School’s sexual assault response procedures in violation of the law.

In March, a University task force released a report with recommendations to all Harvard schools to help prevent sexual assault. The University will likely accept some of the report’s suggestions this academic year.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalin.cunningham@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

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