COLUMBUS—State Senator John Eklund (R-Munson Township) today joined victim advocates in Columbus to re-introduce Senate Bill 41 of the 132nd General Assembly, which would establish better communication between advocates and survivors in order to ensure that survivors feel protected and safe when seeking help from their services.
Specifically, the legislation will create a testimonial privilege for "qualified advocates," defined as people who are specially trained and engaged in providing advocacy services to victims of sexual violence, stalking, human trafficking and domestic violence.
"The existing statutory privileges are grounded in special relationships, in which the utmost candor and trust are essential, such as the attorney/client, doctor/patient and cleric/penitent relationships," said Eklund. "The victim advocate/victim relationship shares many of the same characteristics, highlighted by the position of vulnerability that victims of sexual violence, stalking, human trafficking and domestic violence face. Survivor access to safety and healing depends on their ability to speak freely."
Eklund was also joined by Representatives Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) and Dick Stein (R-Norwalk), who are introducing companion legislation in the Ohio House of Representatives. As of 2017, 37 states have privilege laws protecting communications between domestic violence and/or sexual violence advocates and survivors.
"I cannot emphasize how important this legislation truly is, without touching on the experience of victimization and the qualified advocate’s role," said Executive Director Rosa Beltre, Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence. "Sexual violence impacts survivors across our state, irrespective of demographics. In 2017, Ohio rape crisis centers provided over 54,000 services to survivors, and we know that significantly more survivors needing services did not come forward."
In 2014, Ohio's then-new Rape Crisis Program Fund increased the number of counties receiving services from 32 to 42. The increase resulted in a significant corresponding rise in reports to law enforcement, demonstrating that improved survivor assistance and confidence in advocacy providers comes with an upturn in law enforcement involvement.
"Throughout the criminal justice process, no person situated by the courts or provided by the state is there specifically to assist and support the survivor," stated Director Molly MacBeth," COMPASS Rape Crisis Center. "Community-based advocates are trained based on guiding principles in this specialized field and findings from scientific research. To effectively assist and support survivors in healing, advocates must establish that they believe the survivor and can provide a truly confidential space."
For more information, including testimony from participating survivors, watch today's full press conference by clicking here.