Advocates for sexual assault survivors talk new laws in South Dakota

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — This month, there’s a new law that may help survivors of sexual assault if they choose to come forward. A different law could also give a survivor piece of mind when it comes to a suspect who has HIV.

The Compass Center assistant and clinical director Michelle Trent says 2019 is its highest year for rape crisis calls.

“Our mission is to break the cycle of violence and to help people live in a violence-free place,” Trent said.

In the times we’ve interviewed survivors of sexual assault, many of them have said one of the hardest things to do is come forward and report it. A big piece of evidence can be from a rape examination kit.

As of this month, a new law tackles how the state stores anonymous rape kits. In South Dakota, you have up to a year to report the crime. If you choose not to, under the new law, law enforcement will store those kits.

“From our perspective, it’s a really good win for survivors in our state,” Trent said.

Previously hospitals would store them.

“During that year, hospitals are not experts at evidence storage. So, they are were doing it because it needed to be done, but it is not their area of expertise,” Trent said.

Different protocols for different hospitals could risk potentially destroying evidence that could help a survivor in court. Trent says the switch to law enforcement storage is more uniform.

“This will help preserve that evidence, so, should a survivor come forward to want to report an anonymous kit, that evidence is much more preserved than it would may have been in other circumstances,” Trent said.

State Representative Tim Reed was a prime sponsor of the law when it was a legislative bill.

“This is very important for victims of sexual assault. Just to make sure this process works and works very well for them,” Reed said.

Trent hopes this type of law tweak will make it better for survivors.

“We certainly have a long way to go, but we are making steps forward and getting victories for victims as we go along,” Trent said.

As for the other law we referred to, that has to do with survivors’ ability to get the HIV status of the offender who assaulted them. The new law makes it easier to get that information. Trent says that’s good because it gives survivors better chances of treating themselves and possibly preventing a transmission.

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