Joyful Heart Foundation Applauds Passage of Critical Rape Kit Reform in Alaska

For Immediate Release: May 2, 2018
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation today applauded the passage of Alaska State Bill HB 31, which will mandate annual inventories of all untested rape kits in the state. This legislation, which was championed by State Senator Anna MacKinnon and Representative Geran Tarr, is an important step toward comprehensive rape kit reform. The bill now heads to Governor Bill Walker’s desk.

DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test these 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 tracking or counting rape kits, we cannot be sure of the total number. The passage of HB 31 will ensure such clarity in Alaska.

“The rape kit backlog represents a failure of the criminal justice system to protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. Joyful Heart is proud to partner with the tireless advocates who fought for HB 31,” said Lily Rocha, Joyful Heart’s Policy and Advocacy Manager. “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.”

In 2017, Alaska enacted a law requiring the Department of Public Safety to conduct a one-time statewide audit of untested rape kits. The audit report, released in November 2017, identified 3,484 unsubmitted kits in possession of law enforcement agencies statewide.

Requiring an annual audit – as directed by HB 31 – 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. HB 31 also requires law enforcement training in sexual assault and establishes clear reporting options, a survivor-centered and trauma-informed effort led by local advocates.

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. Coupled with the commitment of funds to test a portion of the state’s backlogged kits, Alaska is making progress towards comprehensive reform. Another effort – to include $2.5 million in the capital budget to test every rape kit – is still pending in the legislature and if enacted, would be the state’s most significant investment in rape kit testing. Learn more about Alaska’s progress.

“Behind every kit is a person—a sexual assault survivor—waiting for justice. We are committed to working with advocates in Alaska to pursue important legislative reforms and hope this effort helps inspire action,” added Rocha. “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.

###

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

keep up with backlog news

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