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On Monday, July 15th, 2019, the governor of Pennsylvania signed multiple acts into law. That’s barely news, since it’s a basic part of the state’s legislative process. However, the content of those bills is something that we should all pay attention to.
Many of these new pieces of legislation were created with the specific intention of protecting victims of crimes. Some of the new laws, for example, protect children who are victims of a crime from the trauma of testifying in open court. Others intend to protect the rights of victims of crimes to attend the trial to witness justice firsthand.
The one that really stands out, however, is Act 24 of 2019. It specifically protects the victims of sexual violence from the courts bringing up their personal sexual history or any previous criminal cases in which they were victims as part of the case. This bill arguably the most exciting, as lawmakers have historically been more sympathetic to other victims of violent crime than to victims of sexual violence.
All too often, prosecutors have made victims of very real and traumatic sexual assault feel like they could not seek justice because the courts would are all of their sexual history for the world to see. In other words, many prosecutors wanted perfect victims in order to sell a jury on the damage caused by the crime of sexual assault. Now, prosecutors in Pennsylvania cannot consider a victim’s sexual history or previous crimes they were victims of when determining whether or not to bring charges in a new case.
This is definitely a step in the right direction, as sexual assault remains one of the least reported crimes and also one with a terrible prosecution and conviction rate even when victims choose to go to law enforcement. By enacting this new law, Pennsylvania lawmakers help protect those who do come forward from having their personal embarrassing secrets shared with the world as a way to undermine the crime they experienced.
Hopefully, more states will adopt similar policies that extend protections to the victims of these life-altering crimes. We’d also like to suggest laws that ban rapists from seeking visitation with the children produced by acts of rape and accountability for judges who worry more about how convictions will impact rapists than how violent crime impacts victims.
For previous Ladybud articles about sexual assault, click here.