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May 25, 2023

New Laws Require Patient Consent for Intimate Exams and Improve Support for Survivors of Sexual Assault

WESTMINSTER, CO – Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera today signed two bills into law to protect patients during intimate exams and improve sexual assault survivors’ access to information.

“With this law, we’re putting Colorado patients in the driver's seat by giving them control over what intimate exams can be conducted on them while they’re under sedation,” said Rep. Jenny Willford, D-Northglenn, sponsor of HB23-1077. “We’ve heard from patients who’ve woken up after their surgery to learn that a non-consensual pelvic, prostate, rectal, or breast exam was performed on them by medical students. This law protects patients by requiring consent before any and all intimate exams.” 

“Creating patient consent protections for intimate exams is simply the right thing to do,” said Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, sponsor of HB23-1077. “This important new law will ensure patients who have been put under anesthesia or who are unconscious during medical procedures aren’t unknowing or unwilling recipients of intimate exams.”

“Learning of a non-consensual intimate exam is traumatic, forcing patients to relive some of the worst moments of their life. We’re putting an end to this unethical practice,”said Rep. Lorena Garcia, D-Unincorporated Adams County, sponsor of HB23-1077. “This law requires a patient's consent before medical professionals perform intimate exams, protecting patients when they undergo a medical procedure and giving them the power to opt out of an unnecessary intimate exam.” 

“I’m proud to have championed multiple pieces of transformative legislation to strengthen autonomy and control for survivors of intimate violence and medical patients,” said Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, sponsor of HB23-1077 and HB23-1199. “Nobody should ever have to pay a bill for their forensic exam, or be subjected to intimate examinations without their consent. These bills will further our support for survivors of sexual assault and ensure patients retain control over their bodies and maintain their dignity.”

HB23-1077 requires health care professionals, students, medical residents and trainees to obtain informed consent from sedated or unconscious patients before performing intimate examinations, unless in emergency situations. In addition to consent, health care professionals would only be able to perform intimate examinations if it is pertinent to the planned procedure.

Across the country, medical students and residents are performing unauthorized intimate exams, including pelvic exams for educational purposes, on patients under medical sedation for unrelated surgeries. Patients are not able to consent to these procedures and can experience extreme physical and behavioral trauma responses after learning about the performed exam.

This law would create a clear process for obtaining patient consent and non-compliant medical and health care professionals would be subject to disciplinary action by their regulators or the Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

“No sexual assault survivor should forego a forensic exam because they can’t pay for it,” said Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood, sponsor of HB23-1199. “This law directs funding to support sexual assault survivors and creates a statewide system where they can follow up on their case. We need to do everything we can to ease the burden survivors face when seeking justice, and this law reduces costs on critical forensic exams and empowers survivors by streamlining evidence updates.”

HB23-1199, also sponsored by Representative Matt Soper, requires the Department of Public Safety to create a statewide system for sexual assault survivors to monitor the status of evidence obtained during their forensic medical examinations. The bipartisan law aims to bolster the SAVE program, established under HB13-1163, with critical funding to ensure sexual assault survivors aren’t discouraged from getting a rape kit or billed for a forensic exam.

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