Mid-Year Update: State Legislative Reform in 2018

Joyful Heart is leading a national campaign with an ambitious goal—to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states. Enacting Joyful Heart’s six pillars is the only way to ensure that neither discretion nor resources can be used any longer as an excuse to deny sexual assault survivors the justice they deserve.

Since January 2018, 33 rape kit reform bills have been introduced in 21 states.

Inventory

Bills requiring recurring inventories of untested rape kits have been introduced in Alabama, Alaska, Hawai‘i, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Earlier this month, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a broad criminal justice bill that includes annual, statewide inventories of rape kits. Legislation requiring a one-time, statewide inventory of untested rape kits is pending in California, New Jersey, and South Carolina.

Mandatory Testing

Once the scope of the backlog has been determined, states must move to test all backlogged kits. This year, legislators in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington introduced legislation mandating that all backlogged rape kits be submitted and tested. The broad criminal justice law passed in Massachusetts this month includes these provisions.

To prevent backlogs from reoccurring, states must pass laws requiring all newly collected kits be swiftly submitted to the lab and tested. This year, testing bills have been introduced in Alabama, California, Hawai‘i, Iowa, South Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Oklahoma. The Massachusetts criminal justice law enacted this month includes a provision that requires law enforcement agencies to pick up such kits from hospitals within three business days, law enforcement to transfer kits to labs for testing within seven business days, and labs to test these kits within 30 days of receipt.

Survivors' Rights

Ensuring survivors’ rights to information about the location and status of their rape kits is an essential element of trauma-informed, survivor-centered rape kit reform. Since January, Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawai‘i, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Washington, and West Virginia have all introduced bills to protect victims’ rights to notice and to be informed. Several of these laws also include provisions requiring kits be preserved for longer periods of time, and requiring law enforcement to notify survivors in advance of planned destruction of their kits, regardless of testing status. So far this year, provisions have been enacted in Massachusetts. Additionally, the budget bill awaiting the governor’s signature in New York includes provisions extending the required retention period for rape kits from 30 days to 20 years and requiring survivors to be notified in advance of kit destruction, granting them agency over their rape kits.

Tracking

Tracking systems for rape kits promote transparency throughout the kit collection and testing process and provide a way for survivors to check the status of their kits. This year, Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawai‘i, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Oregon, and South Carolina all introduced tracking-related bills. Maryland, Massachusetts, and Oregon have all enacted laws requiring the creation of tracking systems, and Indiana enacted a law to conduct a feasibility study for one.

Funding

State funding is essential to sustained implementation of rape kit reform laws. In 2018, state appropriations for rape kit reform are pending in Alaska, California, and Hawai‘i.

While legislative reform is our goal, we recognize the efforts of local partners who are working to change the way rape kits are handled. Joyful Heart continues to collaborate with local- and state-level stakeholders, including survivors, elected officials, criminal justice professionals, and victim advocates to advance a myriad of reforms in jurisdictions across the country.

LEARN MORE ABOUT RAPE KIT REFORM IN YOUR STATE

-By Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy, April 30, 2018

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