First Step in Rape Kit Reform Signed by Governor Gordon

For Immediate Release: March 4, 2019
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation (Joyful Heart) applauds Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon’s signing of Senate File 72, which requires an annual report of all untested rape kits in the state. This legislation, championed by State Senator Affie Ellis, is Wyoming’s first step toward comprehensive rape kit reform.

DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test sexual assault kits. It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country. Because most jurisdictions do not have systems for counting rape kits, we cannot be sure of the total number. The extent of the untested rape kit backlog in Wyoming is unknown, but this new law will ensure much needed clarity.

“The rape kit backlog represents a failure of the criminal justice system to protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. Joyful Heart is proud to support the Wyoming advocates and elected officials who fought for Senate File 72,” said Ilse Knecht, Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. “When law enforcement agencies inventory the untested kits in their custody, real reform can begin; communities can take steps to test those kits, hold offenders accountable and bring justice to sexual assault survivors whose cases have languished, often for years—or even decades.”

Requiring an annual report—as directed by Senate File 72—is the most effective way to hold law enforcement accountable with respect to the handling of untested rape kits and enables stakeholders to understand the scope of the problem and monitor progress. The law requires each criminal justice agency to report annually all investigations in which a rape kit is collected. The report must include: the type of crime involved; whether the evidence was submitted to a crime lab; if analysis was completed; and, if not submitted, the reasons for non-submission. The intent is to report on all rape kits currently in law enforcement’s possession. The bill additionally provides that destruction of kits cannot occur until the statute of limitations has run or law enforcement obtains a court order.

Joyful Heart has developed a national campaign to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states framed around six pillars for reform. An annual audit is a critical pillar of reform. Learn more about progress at: http://www.endthebacklog.org/wyoming.

“Behind every kit is a person—a sexual assault survivor—waiting for justice. We are committed to working with legislators and advocates in Wyoming to pursue important legislative reforms and hope this effort helps inspire further action,” added Knecht. “We stand with every survivor who has taken the step of reporting the crime to the police and endured an invasive examination in search of DNA evidence left behind by the attacker. Every untested kit represents a missed opportunity to bring justice and healing to a survivor and increased safety to a community.”

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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