SACRAMENTO – Today Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 538, joint authored by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) and Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell), which modernizes and improves forensic and medical care for sexual assault survivors.
“Unfortunately, a sexual assault occurs every 92 seconds in America,” said Assemblymember Berman. “While we work to reduce the frequency of these crimes, we must also ensure that survivors have access to trauma-informed and evidence-based care, especially in the more rural parts of California. I was pleased to partner with sexual assault forensic examiners this year to pass AB 538, which will do just that.”
According to a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, one in three women and one in six men in the United States have experienced sexual violence. After enduring sexual assault, timely access to medical and forensic care is necessary to prevent adverse health outcomes and for the proper collection of evidence. Survivors are asked to undergo a highly sensitive and detailed examination, during which qualified health care professionals gather the patient’s medical and recent sexual history, record the patient’s account of the sexual assault, provide medical care, perform a full body examination, document physical findings, photograph injuries, and collect and package evidence for crime lab analysis.
The proper identification, collection, and documentation of evidence is integral for crime laboratories to establish DNA profiles, for law enforcement to identify offenders, for district attorneys to successfully prosecute defendants, and for survivors to witness justice in court. Unfortunately, access to qualified health care professionals with the advanced knowledge and clinical skills to provide appropriate forensic and medical care to patients is limited. With only 49 exam teams serving all 58 counties in California, some survivors must travel long distances to receive an exam. Barriers to access such as this reduce the likelihood of receiving timely medical care and allow evidence to degrade.
AB 538 addresses access by ensuring the financial stability of exam teams statewide, and by clarifying that nurse practitioners and physician assistants can perform exams. Furthermore, AB 538 enhances the quality and efficiency of exams by updating existing law to reflect current best practices, protect the confidentiality of forensic records, and advance education and training for examiners.
“By signing AB 538, Governor Newsom has protected survivor access to sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE) teams in California,” said Kim Walker on behalf of the California Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners Association, the sponsor of the bill. “This bill ensures qualified healthcare professionals are appropriately trained to perform these vital exams in a compassionate, trauma informed manner and optimizes the health care response that survivors of sexual assault both require and deserve. Cal SAFE would like to thank Assemblymember Berman and Assemblymember Low for offering AB 538 and for their tireless support for survivors.”
Supported by a broad coalition of sexual assault forensic examiners, law enforcement, local government, and student activists, AB 538 received bipartisan support in the Legislature.
Assemblymember Berman has been a strong advocate for sexual assault survivors since being elected to the Assembly in 2016. His first year in office, Assemblymember Berman joint authored the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights (AB 1312, Chapter 692, 2017). Last year, Assemblymember Berman authored legislation (AB 1619, Chapter 939, 2018) to extend the statute of limitations for the recovery of civil damages related to a sexual assault endured as an adult.
Contact: Kaitlin Curry, (916) 319-2024