With reported rape up 25 percent in the city this year, and up 16 percent for Kings County, Brooklyn lawmakers are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a measure they co-sponsored that establishes a sexual assault victim’s bill of rights
The bill, which passed both the assembly and Senate last June as the legislative session was winding down, has been sitting on Cuomo’s desk for a signature.
In the meantime, the bill’s prime sponsor, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Queens) was shocked to learn that acting State Attorney General Barbara Underwood found that seven hospitals had illegally charged rape victims for services rendered.
“This languishing legislation, that I sponsored in the Assembly, would give sexual assault survivors a copy of a Bill of Rights and it would clearly tell then that the forensic examination is free, as well as HIV post-exposure therapies and emergency contraception,” said Simotas. “One of the most disturbing aspects of this is that a new law might have prevented this travesty but it has been waiting for the governor’s signature for six months, after passing the Assembly and the Senate in June 2018.”
The seven hospitals that charged rape survivors were Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center, Columbia University, Montefiore Nyack Hospital, New York Presbyterian/Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Richmond University Medical Center, and St. Barnabas Hospital.
As part of their settlement the hospitals agreed to pay the assault victims restitution of and clearly post written policies for patients to ensure that sexual assault survivors are not billed for rape examinations in the future.
But the matter also didn’t sit well with Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill), a co-sponsor of the bill. The AG finding the hospitals charging for rape kits, which is illegal, should make lawmakers perk up their ears, said Simon.
“The sooner the governor signs this legislation, the better,” said Simon. “This is a critical bill with a piece of information victims of sexual assault need to have. We want survivors to know their rights. With something like this every day counts moving forward. I am very hopefully the governor signs the bill before the end of the year.”
State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Coney Island, Sunset Park, Staten Island), who co-sponsored the bill on the senate side, called the legislation important as sexual assault victims need to know their rights.
“Rape victims experiencing trauma need a comprehensive approach into providing treatment and this includes having information as to their rights,” said Savino. “I hope the governor signs this bill as quickly as possible.”
Gov. Cuomo spokesperson, Hazel Crampton-Hays responded that the governor was proud to champion groundbreaking reforms last year, including legislation to increase sexual assault kit storage from 30 days to 20 years.
The outrage over the legislation comes as there has been 1,633 reported rape incidents citywide thus far in 2018 as compared to 1,311 at this time last year – a 24.6 percent increase, according to official New York City Police Department statistics.
In Brooklyn, according to NYPD statistics, there have been 489 reported thus far in 2018 as compared to 423 at this time in 2017 – or 16.5 percent increase.
“As reported rapes rise across the city it is important that those who have been victims of sexual assault are aware of their rights. They need to know the resources that are available to them so they can begin to recover from such a traumatic experience. I echo the calls for Governor Cuomo to sign this bill into law,” said Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights), another co-sponsor of the measure.
If Cuomo fails to sign this bill it will become a “pocket veto,” meaning either the legislature has to again take up the writing of the bill or they can override it with a two-thirds majority vote.