Lawmakers processed more than a dozen bills for sex assault and trafficking victims this session. What now?
Lawmakers passed a number of bills pertaining to sexual assault, human trafficking and domestic violence victims in their first session after the #MeToo movement began and the first one in the country’s history in which women made up the majority.
During their 120 days of work, lawmakers approved bills that create the Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights, call for a coordinator of services for child victims of sex trafficking and extend the length of court-ordered protection for victims.
“I think we had 17 sexual assault bills this session, and I hope we’ll continue to see that number grow and people addressing the issue,” said Kimberly Mull, a lobbyist who works with survivors of sexual assault through her business, Kimberly Mull Advocacy & Consulting. “If we can do that and continue to take those steps, I think that would be good and hopefully next session we can continue to get small and medium victories and then a couple larger victories in there as well.”
Mull, however, was critical of the progress made during the 2019 session, especially in light of a movement that has brought sexual assault to the forefront of the public conversation.
“I’m sure people will say it was great and that we got a lot accomplished because there were lots of bills. And there were lots of bills, but they do lots of little steps and lots of little things,” she said. “But for the most part, from the Me Too side of it, it was very disappointing, especially coming out of the first female majority session of the country.”
Mull’s sentiment was partly echoed by Susan Meuschke, the executive director of the Nevada Coalition of End Domestic and Sexual Violence.
“We are pleased with how much progress was made and we also understand how much more needs to be made and we need to continue to have these conversations and they can’t be a one-session wonder,” she said.
Meuschke also raised her concerns about the future of the bills.
“You can pass legislation but how it gets implemented is the real test,” she said. “The Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights — it provides a lot of rights that will be difficult. Every survivor will have the right to an advocate to accompany them through a variety of processes. We don’t have a lot of sexual assault advocates in this state. So they may have the right but they may not always have the resource. So how do we make sure what we promised we can fulfill?”
Gov. Steve Sisolak has already signed a number of bills, including some giving survivors more time to come forward about a crime. AB142, which passed through the Senate and Assembly unanimously, removes the statute of limitations for sexual assaults in which the perpetrator can be confirmed via DNA.
Another bill, AB410, extends the period of court-ordered temporary protection for domestic violence victims from 30 days to 45 days.
Republican Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner, a primary sponsor of both bills, highlighted the importance of bipartisanship in a press conference after both measures were signed.
“Here we have Sen. Spearman, who is a Democrat senator from the South of Nevada, and myself, a Republican assemblywoman from the North of Nevada, and yet she and I have come together and collaborated on three bills that deal with sexual assault victims, human trafficking victims and domestic violence victims,” she said.
Spearman, the other primary sponsor of the bills, also co-sponsored SB368 with Krasner. The omnibus victims rights bill — which was signed into law on June 3 — creates a “rebuttable presumption” in civil lawsuits that sexual contact was non-consensual if the alleged perpetrator was a person of authority over the alleged victim. That includes a parent, coach, religious leader or law enforcement officer.
It also provides the opportunity for a juvenile convicted of crimes related to prostitution to have their records vacated and sealed if the juvenile was a victim of sex trafficking.
Additionally, it voids the statute of limitations on complaints to the court related to sexual assault and extends the amount of time for which an extended protection order is valid from one to three years. The bill also establishes procedures on informing victims about the results of tests on Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence kits, known as SAFE kits or rape kits.
The bill comes after Nevada’s recent effort to address its backlog of untested rape kits, in part with federal grant money. In 2015, then-Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt created Nevada’s Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Working Group to address a number of issues surrounding nearly 8,000 untested kits, including securing funding to test the kits, create a victim notification system, and prosecute associated cases.
According to attorney general’s website, there have been 28 arrests and 7,291 kits tested since the beginning of the Sexual Assault Initiative.
Another bill with similar provisions to SB368 is AB176, which enacts the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights and is awaiting the governor’s signature. Among other things, the bill gives victims the right to consult with a victim advocate during a forensic exam or police interview, the right to a free shower after a forensic exam, and the right for updates on the results of a lab test of their sexual assault evidence kit.
Democratic Senator Nicole Cannizzaro, one of the primary sponsors of the bill, said the bill aims to address the lingering concern about why only about a third of sexual assaults are reported.
“It is more than lip service, it is more than us just asking you to do something that is feel-good legislation,” Cannizzaro, the Democratic Senate majority leader, said about the measure during a recent hearing. “Going through the process of reporting a sexual assault has so many layers of places where you can feel as though somehow it was your fault.”
Lawmakers also tackled issues surrounding child sex trafficking.
AB151, which was signed on June 3, requires that anyone who suspects or knows that a child may be a victim of commercial sexual exploitation report the situation to law enforcement. People who are already required to report child abuse must report suspected victims to child welfare services within 24 hours. Violators would be charged with a misdemeanor.
“This bill helps the state become compliant with federal law, specifically the Justice for Victims of [Sex] Trafficking Act,” Ross Armstrong, the administrator for the Division of Family Services, said during an Assembly Health and Human Services Committee meeting.
He noted the child welfare agencies that learn of a child who is being sex trafficked do not have inherent authority to take action unless the alleged perpetrators was a parent, guardian or someone legally responsible for the child.
“This changes that and allows us to take that report, determine if there is familial trafficking or not, and if there’s not we still have the opportunity to help assess the family and connect the survivor with members in the community to help that survivor heal,” Armstrong said.
Other bills dealing with child victims include SB293, which calls for a state coordinator of services for children that are victims of sex trafficking. The coordinator would have a number of responsibilities, including developing a plan to provide victims with access to housing, treatment, and additional services.
Lawmakers also passed SB7, a bill that increases the penalty for soliciting sex from a person believed to be a child from a category C felony on the third or subsequent offense to a category B felony. The bill was on the governor’s desk on Friday.
The governor has until June 14 to sign or veto any bills passed on the last day of the session or they will automatically become law without his signature.
These bills are a few in a long list of measures introduced this session that concern victims’ rights, crimes related to sexual assault and harassment, and human trafficking.
Sisolak has signed a number of these bills:
- AB124, which requires the development and distribution of a document that provides important information for sexual assault victims, including resources and services.
- AB120, which expands the definition of sex trafficking.
- SB9, which removes the statute of limitations for prosecuting a sexual assault that is committed during the course of a murder.
- SB173, which increases the list of offenses that can be vacated or sealed on a criminal record for victims of sex trafficking.
- SB383, which creates a rebuttable presumption in which sexual conduct between a law enforcement officer and a person in their custody is assumed to be nonconsensual.
Additionally, some bills died at legislative deadlines, including:
- AB158, which would have allowed juvenile victims of sexual abuse who committed crimes against their abusers to receive less harsh sentences than what is mandatory. The bill died in the Senate Judiciary Committee after passing unanimously through the Assembly.
- AB243, which would have increased the prison time served by the perpetrator of incest if the victim was less than 18 years old. It also had a section that would have set up a system to signal to a prisoner when they were being considered for parole. The bill died in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
- AB227, which would have expanded the definition of sexual assault by more clearly defining sexual penetration. The bill died in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
- AB157 would have required the development of a plan by the Department of Health and Human Services for sharing services with human trafficking victims in Nevada. It also would have required the Department of Education and the State Board of Education to create and share informational items pertaining to the human trafficking of juveniles. The bill died after passing the Assembly and being referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.