These Incredible Senators Are Bringing Attention To An Often-Overlooked Sexual Assault Problem

One Washington senator has been attempting to tackle sexual assault and rape in Congress for some time, and now Sen. Patty Murray is drawing attention to a sexual assault issue that's too often ignored: the lack of accessible medical exams for victims. In a letter addressed to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Murray and fellow senators Michael Bennet and Al Franken called for the federal government to better ensure that sexual assault survivors receive adequate care, and that more is done to stop their attackers. "By acting now, we can improve a survivors' experiences during a period of enormous trauma and hardship," the letter reads.

Despite the fact that one in five women in the United States have been raped at some point in their lives, a recent study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted a deficiency of sexual assault examiners who handle victims' care and conduct forensic exams after assaults. According to the study, less than 100 examiners received training in about half of the states in 2013, and one state that trained 540 examiners over two years only had 42 still working at the end of that period. So even when a lot of people are trained for the job, not many choose to stay.

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On top of not retaining enough medical professionals, there are no federal requirements on the availability of examiners, the training they receive, or how they should conduct forensic exams. "This is troubling because, according to the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Studies, from 2005-2010, eighty percent of female rape or sexual assault survivors received care in a hospital, doctor's office, or emergency room," Murray, Bennet, and Franken said in the letter. Obviously, professionals helping sexual assault victims need to be properly trained, and to know how to best care for their patients and obtain the evidence that could potentially put their attackers behind bars.

Murray encouraged Attorney General Lynch and Secretary Burwell to create a national task force to establish minimum standards for examiners, set best practice recommendations, and link the Department of Justice (DOJ) and HHS's efforts to ensure evidence is collected and kept properly. "Both HHS and DOJ have a duty to ensure that victims of sexual violence receive the competent, informed, and supportive care they seek," the senators wrote.

Taking steps to prevent sexual assault and keep women safe is incredibly important, but the government shouldn't neglect the issues those who are assaulted face. Victims deserve quality, accessible care by medical examiners who know what they're doing.