Landscape of Reform: State Legislation Enacted in 2016

This year, we saw incredible progress in the movement to address the untested rape kit backlog and to ensure justice for sexual assault survivors. In 2016, rape kit reform bills were introduced in 21 states, and 13 states across the country have enacted legislation to date. In addition, rape kit reform legislation is pending in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, where a reform bill is awaiting the Governor's signature.

Joyful Heart measures rape kit reform progress in the states through six key legislative elements that we believe must be met to achieve complete reform. To eliminate the backlog, states must pass laws to:

  • audit untested kits,
  • test all backlogged kits,
  • swiftly submit and test all newly collected kits,
  • establish victim notification rights,
  • develop tracking systems for rape kits, and
  • provide state funding to implement these reforms.

Audit Untested Kits

The first step in comprehensive rape kit reform is to conduct a statewide audit of untested kits. This session, Hawai’i and Iowa enacted laws that require a one-time, statewide audit of untested rape kits. Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, and Oregon each passed laws requiring annual statewide audits of untested rape kits, which will promote ongoing transparency and accountability. As of this year, 18 states and Washington, D.C. have passed laws requiring audits of untested rape kits.

Test Backlogged Kits

After an audit is completed, states must move to test all backlogged kits. In 2016, Georgia and Hawai’i both enacted legislation mandating the submission and testing of backlogged kits. Georgia law now requires that all backlogged kits are submitted to the state lab for processing by August 2016. Mandating the testing of all backlogged kits is a key element of rape kit reform and a logical step after an audit is complete. As of this year, 8 states across the country require the testing of backlogged kits.

Test All New Kits 

Swift testing of all rape kits will ensure a new backlog does not occur. Several states passed laws this year to mandate testing of all newly collected kits. Florida, Georgia, Hawai’i, Kentucky, Oregon, South Dakota, and Virginia each passed laws establishing timeframes for all newly collected kits to be submitted for testing. In Kentucky, law enforcement agencies must now collect kits from hospitals within 5 days and submit kits for testing within 30 days. As of this year, the timely testing of newly collected kits is mandated in 16 states and Washington, D.C.

Establish Victim Notification Rights

Ensuring survivors’ rights to information about their cases is a critical element of comprehensive rape kit reform. In 2016, Idaho, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, and Virginia all passed laws that established or strengthened victim notification rights. As of this year, notification rights for rape survivors are on the books in 11 states and Washington, D.C.

Track Rape Kits

Tracking systems for rape kits will promote transparency throughout the kit collection and testing process and provide a way for survivors to check the status of their kits. In 2016, Washington became the first state in the country to pass a law requiring the development of a statewide tracking system for use by law enforcement, forensic professionals, hospitals, and survivors. This system must have a portal through which survivors can anonymously track or receive updates about their kits. This year, Idaho also enacted a law requiring the development of a statewide tracking process for use by law enforcement, but without requirements for survivor access to kit status information.

Funding to Implement Reforms

State funding is critical to ensuring meaningful implementation of rape kit reform laws. This year, ArizonaFlorida, Hawai’i, Idaho, Kentucky, and Washington appropriated additional state funding to improve the handling of sexual assault cases in their states. These funds have been used to test backlogged kits, develop tracking systems, and fund the training of law enforcement and medical professionals in victim-centered, trauma-informed techniques.

As of this year, 11 states and Washington, D.C. have appropriated some level of funding to implement rape kit reforms. 

Despite the progress we have witnessed this year, the effort to pass comprehensive reform laws in all 50 states - Joyful Heart’s objective - is far from over. We strongly believe that a survivor’s zip code should not determine the outcome of their case or their right to information.

We will continue to work to eliminate the backlog, ensure the swift testing of every rape kit connected to a reported crime, increase transparency and accountability throughout the reporting and testing process, and support the rights of survivors everywhere. 

-By Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy and Advocacy, October 17, 2016

END THE BACKLOG is an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.

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END THE BACKLOG is a JOYFUL HEART FOUNDATION initiative and a proud supporter of