SEATTLE, Wash. — When Leah Griffin went to a Seattle-area hospital in 2014 to get help after a sexual assault, she says she was turned away because it didn't have rape kits. To get a forensic examination for prospective prosecuting, she needed to find another medical center.
Going to get help from a police precinct wasn't much different, she says.
"The way survivors are treated by police a lot of times is re-traumatizing," Griffin said to KIRO 7 in an on-camera interview. "In my experience I went to the north precinct, and I was told to call 911 from the lobby and waited for two hours in the lobby ... I asked the dispatch person, about 45 minutes in, how long it was going to be, and I was told to just go home ... I was doing exactly what I thought I was supposed to be doing and I was dismissed."
Griffin took her story to Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash), and together they've worked on legislation that eventually became the proposed Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act. The bill would establish federal standards around examinations and treatment.
Murray has identified Griffin as a brave survivor who is turning her own painful experience into a force for good, and now the senator invited her to come to the President Donald Trump's first State of The Union address on Tuesday.
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At the address, the Me Too movement is expected to have a big presence following sexual harassment allegations on Washington D.C.'s Capitol Hill.
Griffin, who now serves on the Olympia-based Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Task Force, says that attending the SOTU and speaking about her cause is part of advocating for rape kit accessibility and sexual assault awareness across the county.
"I think that what the Trump presidency has brought is sexual assault to the forefront of the national discourse. We've had a president who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, who has nearly 20 women coming forward to say they've been assaulted or harassed by the president … then that thrusts this issue into a level that we can actually make real change. I've been doing this [advocacy] before this presidency, and it was challenging to really people and get media's attention. Since Trump has taken office and the Me Too movement, there is a renewed bigger enthusiasm for making this change possible."
Griffin believes that Washington is a leader in making progressive strides to develop survivor's rights. While she advocates for national reform, she's also working at the local level for change.
One of those being the nearly 6,000 rape kits that lay dormant, untested in evidence rooms or crime labs in Washington state. In the wake of new laws issued to clear the backlog, she's talked with lawmakers about how to prevent the issue from happening again in the future.
"There are so many errors and problems that we could pass in the legislative system for years, and only be making a dent. I used to think the system is broken ... and I would tell people that we need to fix the system … What I've come to realize is the system isn't broken, there was no system in the first place. We're building a system that can address the needs of survivors," she told KIRO 7.
In addition to talking with leaders about legislation, Griffin gets calls from survivors every week. Griffin says as lawmakers work to make the system more "tolerable," there are resources that survivors can turn to right now such as the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center in Renton.
if you have experienced sexual assault and need support, or if you would like more information about sexual violence, call King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s 24-hour Resource Line at 888.99.VOICE or click here.
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Cox Media Group