VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT OF 2005
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I thank Senator Biden and all those who have worked hard on this bill. I have a few comments on my amendment about protecting victims of rape and sexual assault from being further victimized by HIV/AIDS.
As a practicing physician, I am deeply concerned about both the physical and emotional well-being of those who have been traumatized by rape and sexual assault. That is why I believe that it is necessary for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act to include timely HIV tests of those accused of rape and sexual assault.
There are countless stories of women and children who have been victims of rape and sexual assault who have been denied access to this potentially life-saving information. In some circumstances, rape defendants have even used HIV status information as a plea bargaining tool to reduce their sentences.
Let me explain why this is important.
Treatment with AIDS drugs immediately following exposure to HIV can significantly reduce the chance of infection. However, because of the toxicity and long-term side effects, these drugs should not be administered without first knowing if HIV exposure has occurred. Victims cannot rely solely on testing themselves because it can take weeks, sometimes months, before HIV antibodies can be detected, Therefore, testing the assailant is the only timely manner in which to determine if someone has been exposed to HIV.
The American Medical Association, AMA, supports this policy because ``early knowledge that a defendant is HIV infected would allow the victim to gain access to the ever growing arsenal of new HIV treatment options. In addition, knowing that the defendant was HIV infected would help the victim avoid contact which might put others at risk of infection.''
In addition to the AMA, groups such as the Children's AIDS Fund and Women Against Violence support this policy.
The Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1994 already allows victims to request a court order to have alleged perpetrators tested for HIV only in Federal assault cases. In October 2000, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill, 380 to 19, that would have provided this right and protection to all those who were the victims of sexual assault, but, unfortunately, the Senate never took up this bill. But now is our chance.
It would be a cruel hoax if the Senate approved the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 without including this amendment that ensures those women who have already been victimized by sexual assault are not further victimized by our legal system and HIV/AIDS.
I propose an amendment that would reduce the overall amount of funding under this act for a State or local government by 10 percent unless the State or local government demonstrates that with respect to a defendant against whom an information or indictment is presented for a crime in which by force or threat of force the perpetrator compels the victim to engage in sexual activity, that the defendant be tested for HIV disease if the nature of the alleged crime is such that the sexual activity would have placed the victim at risk of becoming infected with HIV; and the victim requests that the defendant be so tested. The defendant must undergo the test not later than 48 hours after the date on which the information or indictment is presented, and that as soon thereafter as is practicable the results of the test are made available to the victim.
My initiative would not force States to provide this protection, but simply reward those States that do. This right, in fact, already exists in some States but too many women and children are still denied this information that could literally be the difference between life and death.
Do I understand from the Senator from Delaware that constitutional language, ensuring that indicted perpetrators of sexual assault, who have placed the victim at risk of becoming infected with HIV disease, are tested for HIV disease, will be included in the final legislative language agreed upon by the House and Senate conference?
Mr. BIDEN. Yes, that is correct.
Mr. COBURN. I thank the Senator for his commitment to include language in the final reauthorization and for his commitment to reduce violence and protect those who are the victims of sexual assault.
I would also like to recognize the tireless efforts of Deidre Raver of New York who was raped at the age of 19 and has been an effective and compassionate advocate for other survivors of sexual assault. Earlier this month, DNA evidence linked a man on death row in California to the 1988 murder of Deidre's sister, Rachel. My thoughts and prayers are with Deidre and her family at this time and I am hopeful that this discovery will finally bring some closure to her family's long ordeal.