Rape survivors in Louisiana closer to gaining access to their written medical records

With little opposition, committees in the Louisiana Legislature moved forward two bills Wednesday that would guarantee sexual assault survivors access to their written medical records.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 313 from Rep. Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport, which guarantees victims access to their written forensic medical exam report at no cost. The bill also guarantees that victims of violent crimes have access to a free copy of the police report filed in connection with their attack.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee also moved unanimously Senate Bill 147 , which would require a health care provider to provide a copy of the written forensic medical report to any adult who undergoes what is commonly called a rape kit exam. The health care provider would have to produce the documents for the person within 14 days of their request.

Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, sponsored the second proposal, which is supposed to work in conjunction with Pressly’s bill.

Though the written part of the medical exam would be guaranteed under these bills, health care providers would not be required to release photos taken of the sexual assault victim during a forensic exam to the victim. Prosecutors had brought up concerns that if victims were given access to those photos, they could end up in the hands of the person accused of the violence, especially if that person was a family member or dating partner.

In Louisiana, sexual assault survivors have been repeatedly denied access to their own forensic medical reports. There’s no standard approach to releasing those documents to patients. Medical providers, under pressure from law enforcement, are reluctant to give out the information.

Yvonne Williams, a California woman who says she was assaulted while attending a conference in New Orleans, worked with Mizell on her proposal. It took Williams more than three years and two attorneys to obtain her own forensic medical report.

Williams’ second lawyer only ended up getting the medical documents after he made a public records request to the City of New Orleans. The University Medical Center, which took over the hospital where Williams underwent her rape kit exam, refused to share the records with her. Her case was highlighted in a Louisiana Illuminator article published in December.

The Louisiana District Attorneys Association was initially not in favor of providing sexual assault survivors blanket access to forensic medical reports and believed the release of such information should be handled on a case-by-case basis. The group has done a turnaround on the issue, however, stating Wednesday it was in favor of Mizell’s legislation.

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