Louisiana to ensure sexual assault survivors get access to medical records

By: - June 6, 2022 9:53 am

Louisiana will now have two new laws that ensure victims of sexual assault get access to their own medical records. (Getty Images)

Louisiana will guarantee sexual assault victims access to written medical records following years of law enforcement and medical providers refusing to release such documents. 

The Louisiana Legislature overwhelmingly approved two bills, Senate Bill 147 and House Bill 313, that work together to create this entitlement. Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed one piece of legislation into law already and is expected to sign the other shortly. The new laws will become effective Aug. 1. 

Senate Bill 147, sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, requires a health care provider to turn over a copy of a written forensic medical report to any adult who undergoes what is commonly called a rape kit exam. The health care provider would have to produce the documents for the person within 14 days of a request being made. 

House Bill 313, from Rep. Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport, also guarantees victims access to their written forensic medical exam at no cost. 

Though the written part of the medical exam will be guaranteed under these bill, health care providers would not be forced to release photos taken of a sexual assault victim during a forensic exam to the victim. Hospital officials and prosecutors had brought up concerns that if victims were given access to those photos, they could end up in the hands of the person accused of the violence, especially if that person is a family member or dating partner.

In Louisiana, sexual assault survivors have been repeatedly denied access to their own forensic medical reports. There’s no standard approach to releasing those documents to patients. Medical providers, under pressure from law enforcement, are reluctant to give out the information. The issue was highlighted in a Louisiana Illuminator article published in December.

Yvonne Williams, a California woman who says she was assaulted while attending a conference in New Orleans, worked with Mizell on her proposal. It took Williams more than three years and two attorneys to obtain her own forensic medical report.

Williams’ second lawyer only ended up getting the medical documents after he made a public records request to the City of New Orleans. University Medical Center in New Orleans, which took over the hospital where Williams underwent her rape kit exam, refused to share the records with her. 

The Louisiana District Attorneys Association initially opposed providing sexual assault survivors blanket access to forensic medical reports and believed the release of such information should be handled on a case-by-case basis. The group reversed its stance, however, supporting Mizell’s legislation as it moved through the process.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.