Victory! NJ Gov. Signs Bill So Survivors Won't Be Charged for Their Rape Kits
In late June, a vital bill to support rape survivors landed on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's desk. The bill, which had strong bipartisan support in both legislative houses, was to bar rape survivors from being charged for their own rape kits -- collections of forensic evidence after a sexual assault that can be used in a criminal investigation. It would go into effect immediately upon signing, instantly protecting rape survivors.
June petered out. Then all of July. Then, we come to late August, with the deadline for signing or vetoing the bill coming up on the 25th, still without Christie bothering to take action. His office said the straightforward potential law remained "under review." A New Jersey resident, Sarah Rowley, decided this week that enough was enough.
Rowley launched a petition on Change.org calling on Gov. Christie not to stick rape victims with the bill -- and to sign the legislation already. Within less than 72 hours, after almost 1000 signatures from Change.org members, the drawn-out "reviewing" process was over: Gov. Christie affixed his John Hancock yesterday.
Gov. Christie's sudden action, after having refused to give any indication of his leanings, seems to have clearly come as a response to the petition pressure, a related Twitter campaign, and outrage in the media, including blog posts linking to the Change.org action such as New Jersey resident Zerlina Maxwell's Feministing piece, "I should not be billed for my rape kit." On Countdown With Keith Olbermann, guest host David Shuster took Christie to task for signing plenty of other bills, like for snowplows, while sitting on the "no-brainer" rape kit bill. The only way for Gov. Christie to stop the attacks and salvage his political image was to give in, get moving, and sign the legislation.
Gathering evidence for a rape kit is an invasive process, including vaginal swabs and blood tests, that can be traumatic for a survivor who has just been assaulted -- but this collection is absolutely vital for law enforcement to have the evidence to track down and prosecute the perpetrator. That's why a government agency bears the cost of this sexual assault forensic evidence kit. But the petition points out that, instead of going to the agency, "health care administrators looking for a payout often try to collect from a victim anyway." That's why this new law was necessary to absolutely ban what sponsor Republican State Senator Diane Allen denounced as an "inhumane practice."
"In no other crime would it even be contemplated that victims receive an invoice for the collection of evidence needed to prosecute the offenders," stated Sen. Allen. "Victims who receive a bill are needlessly forced to relive their attack all over again by the very people to whom they turned for help." Democratic State Assemblywoman Annette Qujano, another sponsor, expressed the same sentiments: "I see no reason why we should add to that suffering by essentially forcing them to pay for the investigation into their own assault. ... We must remember that these women are the victims, not the criminals." At least now, thanks to direct action and media concern, rape survivors in New Jersey will have one less trauma to suffer through.