Riley signs ‘Right to Know' law
Published 7:29 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Special to The Standard
MONTGOMERY - Gov. Bob Riley put some positive action into National Crime Victims Rights Week today by signing into law a rape victims' “Right to Know” act that requires rape and sexual assault suspects to undergo on-demand tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
During a speech at the Governor's Conference on Law Enforcement Training, held annually each year during National Crime Victims Rights Week, Riley signed the bill into law as the bill's sponsor and the rape victim who inspired it watched.
Prior to this change in law, testing was required only after a rape conviction.
That was no help, however, to rape victims forced to wait to learn if they had been exposed to HIV or some other sexually transmitted disease, officials with the governor's office said.
One such victim is Doris Stewart of Montgomery, who was raped in 2002.
But the assault on her was just one of the two crimes committed against her, Riley said. “The other was her inability to find out if her attacker had HIV.”
HIV is Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus that causes AIDS.
Stewart contacted state legislators and sought a change in law to require testing of rape suspects for HIV.
Rep. David Grimes, R-Montgomery, introduced the bill and worked to get it passed
The National Rape Crisis Center estimates the rate of HIV infection among sexual assault victims is higher than the general population because the violent nature of the forced sexual contact increases the chances of HIV transmission.
Sexual assault victims cannot simply test themselves for HIV immediately after the attack because it can take up to six weeks for the virus to be detected.
That means, in most cases, victims begin preventive drug treatments as soon as possible, regardless of what is known about their assailants.
The treatment, usually involving three anti-AIDS drugs, lasts a month and can produce serious side effects such as nausea, headaches and vomiting.
Some victims who do not know the HIV status of their attacker decide not to go through with the treatment because of the side effects.
A positive HIV test from a rape suspect would give the victims the assurance that they should complete the treatment.
The new law goes into effect on July 1.