The legislature has voted to ensure that Missouri patients can no longer have invasive medical examinations performed while they’re unconscious and without prior knowledge or consent.
Legislators were told that medical students and residents have been allowed and even directed to perform anal, prostate, or pelvic examinations on unconscious patients as part of their instruction, sometimes without those patients’ consent.
House Bill 402 contains several provisions regarding healthcare. One of those would specify that such exams on unconscious patients may only be conducted when that patient or their authorized representative has given consent; the examination is necessary for medical purposes; or when such an exam is necessary to gather evidence of a sexual assault. The legislature voted last week to send HB 402 to Governor Mike Parson (R) for his action.
Missouri legislators passed a package of measures intended to protect victims of sexual and domestic violence and trafficking before the 2022 regular session drew to a close on May 13. Senate Bill 775 contained language sponsored by several House members, and now awaits action by Governor Mike Parson (R).
Kelly said of particular importance to her, personally, in SB 775 is the language that establishes the “Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights.” This seeks to make sure victims know their rights regarding the gathering of evidence and related medical exams; access to incident reports; and protections from intimidation and harassment by an attacker.
SB 775 also clarifies definitions in Missouri law regarding “sexual contact” and “sexual conduct.” Representative David Evans (R-West Plains) said he dealt with at least one case, during his 28 years as a judge, in which unclear definitions regarding contact with minor victims hindered prosecution.
SB 775 would specify that no persons younger than 18 will be prosecuted for prostitution, and if located by law enforcement while engaged in commercial sexual acts, they will be considered a victim of abuse and referred to the Children’s Division and juvenile officers to receive help. It also eliminates the requirement that a person under 18 and charged with prostitution must prove they were coerced to avoid conviction.
These were provisions found in legislation sponsored by Representative Ed Lewis (R-Moberly), who said the laws regarding these individuals needs to be focused on getting them help.
Other related sections deal with prosecuting those who attempted to engage in sexual acts or pornography-related offenses with individuals under 18.
The bill also contains language sponsored by Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) dealing with orders of protection. It would state that a person with an order of protection against them cannot skip a court date regarding that order and then plead ignorance to knowing it was still in effect. He and Carter Dochler say this defense has often been successful for abusers who would violate an order and then say they didn’t know it was in place because they didn’t attend a hearing.
Roberts has often said that this and other proposals he has filed stem from his time in law enforcement – including as Joplin’s police chief and the director of the Department of Public Safety – and times in his career when he couldn’t help a victim because of how the law was written.
Along that same line, Roberts said a provision in SB 775 that is important to him is one that allows victims to testify via video rather than have to appear in court for a domestic violence proceeding.
Roberts says too often, a victim is afraid to proceed with prosecution for fear or retribution by their abuser. This provision addresses that fear; specifically that requiring a victim to appear in court creates an instance in which their abuser will know where and when to find them.
With all these issues, legislators have to craft language that protects victims but also allows for due process for those who are accused. Evans believes with SB 775, Missouri gets closer to finding the right balance between those considerations, “and again that’s one thing I really enjoy doing, is balancing the rights of those that are charged but making it absolutely clear to protect the victims of the crimes as well. I think we’re getting there.”
SB 775 includes several other provisions, including those that would make it a crime for any coach of minors to abuse a minor, whereas currently law speaks only to high school coaches; extends protections against the release of a victim’s personal information to include their personal email address, birth date, health status, or any information from a forensic testing report; and further restricts when the prior sexual conduct of a witness or victim in a sexual offense case may be inquired about in a legal proceeding.
The Missouri Legislature this session passed three provisions aimed at addressing the thousands of untested rape kits in the state.
Those kits include DNA samples and other evidence collected in medical examinations conducted after sex crimes. The Attorney General’s Office has learned of more than 5,000 forensic evidence kits that have gone untested in Missouri. The exact number remains unclear as not all agencies in the state responded to that office’s inquiries.
Public Policy Director with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Jennifer Carter Dochler, said for a kit to be sitting on a shelf when a victim wants it to be tested is, “incredibly traumatizing.”
The Attorney General’s report suggested among other things that the state secure funding for testing kits; create a statewide tracking system for kits; and create standards for the handling of kits. Those recommendations were addressed by the legislature in its session that ended in May.
House Bill 1355 includes language that requires the Attorney General’s Office to create a statewide tracking system for forensic evidence from sexual assaults.
The budget approved by the legislature also gives the Attorney General’s Office authority to apply for a federal grant to fund a statewide tracking system. The office should learn in September whether it will receive that grant money.
HB 1355 also requires that hospitals and other medical providers should notify law enforcement when they have a forensic evidence kit; that law enforcement shall take possession of a kit within 14 days of that notification; law enforcement shall take it to a laboratory for testing within 14 days of taking possession of it; and that law enforcement will hold on to a kit for 30 years if the related crime has not been prosecuted.
Carter Dochler says this will bring statewide continuity to how evidence kits are treated.
She said some issues that still must be addressed concern how a kit will be handled when the victims in the associated case has not made a decision whether to report the crime to law enforcement. She said many of these “unreported” kits remain in hospitals.
She said some of those issues could be addressed in departmental rules and regulations, and might not require future legislative action. HB 1355 does define “reported” and “unreported” kits, and she said those definitions are a first step toward consistency.
Even with such areas still requiring attention, Carter Dochler said from the Coalition’s point of view, the 2018 legislative session saw the passage of many important laws.
A Missouri representative is proposing that high school students learn about sexual harassment, violence, and consent as part of sexual education. Her legislation will be heard Tuesday night by the House Committee on Children and Families.
Sikeston Republican Holly Rehder said the idea behind House Bill 2234 was brought to her by students at the University of Missouri who said they wish they had received such an education. They believe teaching high school students about those subjects could prevent situations that can cause life-changing harm, and Rehder agrees.
Numerous cases have put sexual harassment, sexual violence, and consent in the public spotlight. One of those is the case of long-time USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. He was sentenced late last month to up to 175 years in prison for abusing young female gymnasts. At least one of the women who gave a victim impact statement before his sentencing has written a letter in support of HB 2234.
Amanda Thomashow tells lawmakers she realized many of those Nassar assaulted didn’t know they were being abused, at least not at first, and trusted the doctor.
She writes, “more than anything I keep coming back to one particular question: How can we prevent such a tragedy from happening ever again? I have repeated this question in my head, over and over, searching for a way to save others from similar evils. I know there are many answers and I know there is no easy solution when it comes to sexual assault. However, I also know one thing with absolute certainty; we must add consent and sexual violence to basic sexual education curriculum. We need to equip young people with knowledge to protect and empower them, and House Bill 2234 does just that.”
HB 2234 would expand Missouri law on what must be included in sex education materials so that they cover sexual harassment, sexual violence, and consent. It would also seek to define those terms in relation to sex education.
It would define “consent” as, “a freely given agreement to the conduct at issue by a competent person. An expression of lack of consent through words or conduct means there is no consent. Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from the use of force, threat of force, or placing another person in fear does not constitute consent. A current or previous dating or social or sexual relationship by itself or the manner of dress of the person involved with the accused in the conduct at issue shall not constitute consent.”
HB 2234 defines “sexual harassment” as, “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate,” and defines “sexual violence” as, “causing or attempting to cause another to engage involuntarily in any sexual act by force, threat of force, duress, or without that person’s consent.”
Missouri school districts are not required to have sexual education as part of their curriculum. The bill would require that these new areas be included for those that do.
Rehder said she looks at the issue not just as a legislator but as a mother of three.