LINCOLN--As a crisis line operator for a sexual assault help center in Kansas City, Missouri, Westin Miller spoke with people every day about the worst experiences of their lives.
Before taking the job, Miller assumed he'd be helping counsel callers during times of distress. Instead, most of his time was spent correcting misinformation. Miller said he spoke to women who thought they needed health insurance to provide DNA evidence and a lawyer to press charges against their attackers.
At a Judiciary Committee hearing Feb. 27 at the Nebraska State Capitol, Miller said it's time for that to change. He spoke in favor of Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln's Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights Act, proposed legislation that seeks to empower the thousands of Nebraskans who experience sexual violence every year by ensuring they receive information about the various processes and paths they can pursue after suffering an assault.
From pressing charges to collecting evidence, Bolz wants each survivor to feel in control and that lawmakers and other authorities stand with them.
"[This bill is] vitally important this year because of the #MeToo movement," Bolz said at the hearing. "We wanted survivors to know we heard what they had to say and we're working with advocates and doing our part to work on legislation that made improvements."
Less than one-third of all rapes in the United States are reported. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, reports that victims choose not to report for many reasons, including fear of retaliation and a belief that authorities won't help.
"Trauma is rooted in confusion and misinformation," Miller said. "Being well-informed about your options and your rights in the face of trauma is invaluable at starting down the road to healing."
Legislative Bill 1126 would create a mechanism to provide survivors with immediate access to information about their options whenever they're interviewed by police or undergo a medical examination related to the assault.
"[Survivors] may be physically hurt, emotionally drained and unsure what to do," Bolz said. "Learning more about what steps to take can help calm victims in a difficult time and protect their rights."
No one spoke in opposition or offered neutral testimony. Members of the Judiciary Committee did note the associated fiscal note needed reworking. The fiscal note said the State Patrol would need to hire more forensic scientists, among other costs, but some costs, such as toxicology testing, couldn't be estimated, the patrol said.
Along with Miller, Robert Sanford, legal director for the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence, testified in favor of LB 1126.
"I cannot imagine many crimes worse than that of a sexual assault," Sanford said.
Surviving an assault can cause victims to second guess every decision they make from the moment of their assault onward, he said. But the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights Act would provide victims with the knowledge they need to regain control.
Most importantly, Sanford said, LB 1126 will "help victims transform into survivors."
Contact Nathan Hittle at firstname.lastname@example.org