Senator Steve Saland (R,C Poughkeepsie) and Assemblywoman Nettie Mayershon (D-Queens) joined today in calling for passage of legislation which would allow rape victims to quickly determine whether or not they may have been exposed to HIV/AIDS.
A 1995 law allows rape victims to determine the HIV status of the convicted assailant. However, since conviction often takes months or years, valuable time is lost in effectively treating any possible exposure to the disease. New AIDS drugs can greatly reduce the chances of contracting the disease if taken immediately after exposure. Treatment with appropriate drugs in the immediate aftermath of the assault, usually within 24 hours of exposure, can significantly reduce the chance of infection. Unfortunately, because of the toxicity and long term negative effects as well as the psychological damage it can cause to a victim's health, these drugs should not be administered for long periods of time without knowing if exposure has actually occurred. Crime victims must be able to weigh all available information to determine their own course of medical and psychological treatment.
Saland and Mayherson are now pushing for passage of legislation (A9912 / S4769A) under which the court - at the request of the victim - require the accused be tested for HIV and other highly transmissible diseases within 48 hours of an indictment. This is particularly urgent when the person requesting the testing may have been exposed to blood or bodily fluids of the defendant during the commission of the crime.
"The law presently allows rape victims to seek the HIV status of their attacker, but only after their attacker has been convicted," said Senator Saland. "Clearly this is a circumstance in which crime victims may wish to quickly obtain information to avail themselves of all available treatment options and ensure that optimal medical treatment is provided. There si no reason to compound a person's victimization by requiring their waiting for the outcome of a trial. Passage of this legislation will reduce both the physical and mental health risks associated with a prolonged waiting period and reduce the potential for further traumatization of rape victims."
Congress recently passed legislation that requires the US Attorney General to reduce the amount of funding provided to states and localities under section 102 of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by five percent if laws are not in place that will enable a victim to request that a defendant charged with rape be tested for HIV. This would apply within 48 hours after the date won which the information or indictment is presented. The victim may also request follow up tests if medically appropriate. The nature of the alleged crime must be such that the sexual activity would place the victim at risk of becoming infected.
"The rape victim is counseled to be tested, but it is critical that s/he be given the information on the HIV status of the alleged rapist so the victim can receive timely medical attention," said Assemblywoman Mayersohn. "We need to act quickly, not only to comply with the federal legislation, but more importantly, to protect the rights of the crime victim. To suffer the nightmare of a rape is traumatic enough, but to force victims to endure moths of waiting to find out their assailant's' status is unconscionable."