It can be very challenging to navigate the legal system, especially for survivors of sexual violence. Each state has victims’ rights laws in place to provide survivors with greater access to the criminal justice process. However, these laws may not apply to a survivor’s right to be informed about the status of his or her rape kit.
In a growing number of states, survivors have a legally established right to be notified about the status of their kit. While the exact language varies from state to state, generally the states give survivors a right, upon request, to information about the status of any testing of his or her rape kit unless the disclosure will interfere with the investigation. This may include information about the submission of the kit to a crime lab, or about a comparison of the evidence with profiles in a DNA database and the results of that comparison.
A survivor can work to locate his or her kit by calling the police department or the prosecutors handling the case. It is important to keep in mind that this process can be difficult and might take some time. A growing list of communities are starting to take an inventory of the unanalyzed rape kits in police and crime lab storage facilities and to test their backlog of kits so it may be less challenging to get information in those areas. Working with a local advocate may be helpful because advocates may have more insight regarding how to navigate the legal system, but unfortunately this does not guarantee that a survivor will be able to obtain an update.
Another related issue some survivors may encounter is that the statute of limitations may have expired on their cases, which can make access to justice feel even further out of reach or even impossible. Passionate leaders in the field, including lawmakers, prosecutors and victim advocates, are working to eliminate or extend the statute of limitations for new cases and are seeking new and creative solutions for justice in backlogged cases, even those for which the statute of limitations has expired. In some cases, charges can be brought for another crime that has a different statute of limitations. That is why it is important for advocates, lawyers, policymakers and survivors alike to come together and continue to create change. We must do everything possible to bring justice and healing to survivors.