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Sexual assault reforms passed by D.C. council

Mark Wilson/Getty Images via CBS D.C.

Last Updated Apr 9, 2014 4:35 PM EDT

The Wash., D.C. council has given initial approval to new legislation to improve how the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) handles sexual assault cases and treats survivors of sexual assaults.

The measure, referred to as the Sexual Assault Victims' Rights Amendment Act of 2013, grants sexual assault survivors the right to have a victims' advocate present during hospital forensic exams and in subsequent in-person police interviews. It also mandates the prompt processing of rape kits and provides sexual assault survivors the right to the results of their rape kits and toxicology tests.

The vote comes after much criticism of the MPD's handling of rape cases and a January 2013 report issued by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) which found the department failed to investigate 170 cases of sexual assault between 2008-2012. At the time, the MPD disputed the report, saying it was "based on a flawed methodology" and "made sweeping allegations that are not backed by facts."

One more vote by the council, scheduled for May, is required before the legislation is enacted.

Marisa Ferri, a sexual assault survivor who has worked hand-in-hand with advocacy groups such as the D.C. Justice for Survivors Campaign, and attempted for over a year to get the bill passed, told CBS News' Crimesider she was "absolutely elated" with the council's vote on Tuesday.

"To be part of something, as a survivor myself, where we go from being victims to finally finding a voice and standing up and creating significant change in our community; that has been so exciting," Ferri said.

In March 2011, Ferri walked into the Washington Hospital Center in D.C. to report that she had been raped. She asked to speak to a victims' advocate while at the hospital, but a detective with the MPD who came to speak with her told her that if she wanted to report a crime, she couldn't speak to an advocate or anyone else until she was interviewed by police.

Ferri told Crimesider on video in January of last year that the detective then interviewed her for three hours and seemed "impatient" and "bored" throughout.

"I do believe the detective tried everything she could to get me not to file this report. She even told me, 'But I think it's a weak case, I think it's a waste of time, but my supervisor is making me fill out the arrest warrant - just in case,'" Ferri said.

"I think I would have been better off mentally if I hadn't reported the crime," Ferri previously told Crimesider.

Now, Ferri says, she feels proud that she had a role in getting legislation enacted that will change how future sexual assault survivors are treated.

"I don't think survivors who report this crime today are going to have the same experience I had," Ferri said. "It's part of my own healing process. I've been able to create some good out of a really horrible, tragic situation."

In a statement Wednesday, the MPD reiterated that the allegations in the Human Rights Watch report were found to be flawed and biased not only by police but also by an independent law firm engaged by the D.C. council. The statement went on to say that the bill "represents continued steps in moving the District toward a victim centered criminal justice system."

"We will continue to strive to treat all victims with compassion and respect while working to hold offenders accountable for their crimes," the statement continued.

A full copy of the council's bill can be seen here.

  • Stephanie Slifer On Twitter»

    Stephanie Slifer covers crime and justice for CBSNews.com.

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