How the RAINN Speakers Bureau Creates Political Change

The RAINN Speakers Bureau is a network of more than 4,000 survivors of sexual violence who volunteer to share their stories. Members across the United States share their experiences through the media, community events, artistic projects, and more. And by doing so, they hope to educate the public, change narratives about sexual violence, empower other survivors to get help, and even reform public policy.

“Joining the Speakers Bureau made me feel like I was helping others as well as myself,” says Speakers Bureau member Rebecca Courtright. “By using my voice, I feel I have regained my true path to help others and create a better future for all victims of sexual violence.”

From statutes of limitations, sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) accessibility, crime victim compensation, passenger safety, the rape kit backlog, and more, RAINN’s policy team works hard to facilitate meaningful change on state and federal levels, and the Speakers Bureau is often a large part of how this change is accomplished.

“It’s one thing to hear a statistic,” says Sean Holihan, RAINN’s federal and state campaign manager. “It’s another thing to hear a story about how a policy has personally affected someone.”

With thousands of Speakers Bureau members across the country and so many policy issues to advocate for, survivors have the opportunity to help make change in their states by testifying and sharing their stories.

Earlier this year, RAINN worked to improve access to forensic nurses in states such as Florida, New Hampshire, and Virginia. In Virginia, two Speakers Bureau members testified for RAINN and shared their stories before lawmakers: Rebecca Courtright and Kayla Cotton.

“I had to travel to multiple hospitals — because only 16 out of 122 hospitals in Virginia have the ability to collect a rape kit,” Rebecca explains. “When I arrived at the hospital and there was no SANE nurse, I felt like no one cared about this crime. That’s why I’m committed to advocating for increased funding to train more SANE nurses. No other survivor should have to feel the way I did that night.”

The two forensic nurse bills that Courtright and other Speakers Bureau member testified for in Virginia ultimately passed and were signed into law. RAINN is also working to get the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act, or SASCA, passed through Congress, which would provide resources and training to hospitals to improve access to care for survivors.

One of RAINN’s biggest policy successes was the passage of the Debbie Smith Act. The Debbie Smith Act, which was initially passed in 2004, created the primary program to end the backlog of untested DNA evidence from sexual assault forensic exams. This crucial law provides funding to test DNA evidence, requires states to create plans to reduce backlogs, and helps strengthen the national DNA database that helps law enforcement solve crimes. The Debbie Smith Act, reauthorized in December, enables Congress to allocate up to $151 million annually to state and local labs for DNA and rape kit testing.

The power of stories is what makes the Speakers Bureau such a critical component of RAINN’s anti-sexual violence work. For Rebecca, “speaking about my experience helped me to heal. The more I use my voice, the more I help other survivors, the more I feel that I have healed from my own attack.”

To learn more about the RAINN Speakers Bureau, visit https://www.rainn.org/speakers-bureau.

And to keep up with RAINN’s legislative efforts, follow @rainnaction on Twitter.

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