D.C. Mayor To Propose Bill Expanding Rights Of Sexual Assault Survivors

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D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is set to announce on Thursday legislation that would enhance the rights of victims of sexual assaults, particularly juveniles, and expand what can be considered a crime during an attack.

Measures being proposed reflect year-long deliberations of an independent task force formed to address concerns that rape cases from several years ago had been mishandled and that younger victims lacked the same resources offered to adults.

The bill was submitted last week, and Bowser plans to discuss details during a Thursday news conference. It adds provisions to a sexual assault victim’s rights act passed in 2014. It would allow victims a greater choice of advocates to be present during interviews with police and prosecutors, and it would require prosecutors to tell victims why a case might not be taken to court.

In addition, the bill would allow children as young as 12 to be provided advocates to help them navigate police and court proceedings. Those services are currently offered only to adult victims. Victims may be distrustful of law enforcement or believe their cases are not being handled with the appropriate decorum or respect, and the trained advocates act as guides and counselors.

“I think this bill will contribute to more victims and survivors accessing help,” said Michelle Garcia, director of the D.C. Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants. “We know that when victims feel supported, they are more likely to engage with and stay engaged with the criminal justice system. . . . I think it will have a big impact in a number of ways.”

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