The South Carolina General Assembly is working on a bill designed to better protect victims of sexual assault who, as a result of the attack, become infected with a possibly fatal transmittable disease.
Both the House and Senate have passed separate bills that would require quicker HIV and hepatitis B testing for a person accused of rape and some other forms of sexual assault. Under current state law, an offender would undergo the test only after they were convicted of a crime, but Rep. Bruce Bannister (R-Greenville) said legislators want the testing sooner.
It would add to the mental anguish of a victim to have to go what can sometimes be two or three years, while you wait for a criminal defendant to go to trial, before you find out if that person has HIV, AIDs, or hepatitis.
He said it would be better to test an offender as quickly as possible. The bills would allow a victim to ask for the testing immediately after an alleged attacker is indicted.
South Carolina receives federal funding for victims’ aid. The tests are included in the federal requirements to receive the aid. However, when legislators passed a matching law in 2009, they included language that only allowed for testing after a conviction. Bannister said lawmakers later learned they were not properly following the federal requirements.
He said the change better protects the victim, as it would allow for tests closer to when the assault actually occurred. The earlier testing would give a victim more time for treatment if the tests turned out positive. Bannister also worried the attacker might become infected after the crime- but before a conviction- resulting in a misleading test that could create unnecessary distress for the victim.
Bannister said legislators considered that an accused offender might turn out to be innocent, but said they wanted to err on the side of victims.
Ultimately, you may be found “not guilty.” But, weighing your rights to not be tested after you’re indicted… versus the victim’s rights to know as soon as they can, we thought that was a good balance.
He said a grand jury indictment meant there would be enough “probable cause” to justify such a test. Both bills would allow a victim or legal guardian to request a test within 48 hours of an indictment.
The House and Senate bills, which are nearly identical, each passed unanimously. Bannister said the House would work to quickly pass the Senate version, so the final legislation could soon head for the governor’s desk.