California Governor Vetoes Critical Rape Kit Testing Bill

Signs law to mandate first statewide inventory

For Immediate Release: September 30, 2018
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

“Governor Brown's office is pushing the narrative that he is supporting and protecting women by signing several bills this weekend, but his public statement neglects to mention his veto of the mandatory rape kit testing bill. This action sends a message to survivors that they must continue to rely on the discretion of local law enforcement to test their kits - rather than a statewide mandate. We know this doesn't work in California. The failure to mandate the testing of all newly collected rape kits means California's backlog will continue to grow, and justice for survivors in California will continue to depend on where they live and who they know. Governor Brown failed survivors when he vetoed SB 1449.” — Mariska Hargitay, Founder & President of the Joyful Heart Foundation

NEW YORK – Tonight, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have mandated the testing of all newly collected rape kits. Although the Governor signed a bill into law to mandate the first statewide inventory of unprocessed rape kits, national best standards point to the importance of testing all kits. Both bills were passed unanimously by the legislature. The Joyful Heart Foundation was an original sponsor of these bills alongside longtime partners Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and survivor Natasha Alexenko.

In a surprising and disappointing move, the Governor vetoed SB 1449, sponsored by State Senator Connie Leyva. The legislation would have addressed weaknesses in existing state law that has allowed dangerous perpetrators to remain on the streets and gave jurisdictions a way to avoid testing all rape kits. In 2017, Joyful Heart issued open record requests to eight California jurisdictions. Six out of eight (75%) were either not following the encouragement of the law or had no way of knowing how many kits were in their possession. There are now more than twenty states requiring the testing of all newly collected rape kits, including Florida, Kentucky, New York, Texas and Utah. California will continue to lag behind until mandatory rape kit testing is enacted.

“The Governor’s veto is a huge disappointment, it sends a dangerous message to survivors they can’t count on their government to protect them when local law enforcement neglects to treat their sexual assault as the serious crime that it is. Testing all rape kits takes violent predators off the streets and helps keep our communities safer. We can and must do better,” said Ilse Knecht, Director and Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation. “Joyful Heart stands with every survivor who takes the step of reporting the crime to the police and endures an invasive examination in search of DNA evidence left behind by the perpetrator. We are as determined as ever to work with California’s next Governor to bring this badly needed reform to the state.”

The Governor signed AB 3118, sponsored by Assemblymember David Chiu, into law, which will require the first statewide audit of all untested rape kits in California. The extent of the rape kit backlog in California is unknown, and it is the largest state in the country without an accurate count. The passage of this bill is a critical first step—when the extent of a jurisdiction’s backlog is revealed, real reform can begin. When law enforcement agencies account for the untested kits in their custody, communities can begin to test those kits, hold offenders accountable and bring justice to sexual assault survivors whose cases have languished, often for years—or even decades.

“For too long, the extent of California’s rape kit backlog has been unknown, stalling justice for survivors and allowing predators to remain free. Today, we are a significant step closer to understanding California’s untested sexual assault kit inventory,” said Knecht. “We are proud to stand with our partners in championing this accomplishment.”

The Joyful Heart community sent tens of thousands of letters, phone calls, social media messages, and emails to their legislators in support SB 1449 and AB 3118.

Added Knecht: “We are deeply grateful to State Senator Connie Leyva and Assemblymember David Chiu for their leadership and work to ensure that a sexual assault survivor’s zip code does not dictate whether or not they will find a path to healing and justice. Our work together continues.”

Joyful Heart has created the premier national resource about the rape kit backlog, which includes an interactive map and resources for survivors, legislators, and the media. Learn more at: ENDTHEBACKLOG.org.

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The mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever. www.joyfulheartfoundation.org

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