Kentucky Passes Final Step in Work to Reform Rape Kit Policies

For Immediate Release: March 26, 2019
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

NEW YORK – With Governor Matt Bevin’s signature, Kentucky has become the latest state in the country to enact comprehensive rape kit reform legislation. The Joyful Heart Foundation, a national organization working to end the backlog of untested kits nationwide, praised the passage of S.B. 97, which requires the Kentucky State Police to establish a rape kit tracking system by July 1, 2020. The system must include a portal for victims to anonymously check the status of their rape kits.

With its passage, Kentucky has now enacted all six pillars of reform recommended by Joyful Heart and leaders in this field.

“Behind every kit is a person—a sexual assault survivor—waiting for justice. This legislation demonstrates Kentucky’s commitment to offering a path to healing and justice for sexual assault survivors and strengthening public safety for its citizens,” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy for Joyful Heart. “Ensuring all stakeholders in the criminal justice process can know the location and status of all newly collected sexual assault evidence kits will bring transparency to evidence kit processing and prevent a backlog from happening again.”

As Joyful Heart’s survivor-focused research shows, giving survivors a choice about how to receive information about their case can help counter the loss of self-determination and control at the core of the sexual assault experience. Building a rape kit tracking system with a portal for survivors to check the status of their kit at their convenience can give survivors the control they need to heal on their own terms.

When tested, rape kit evidence can identify an unknown assailant, reveal serial offenders, and exonerate the wrongly convicted. For example, in Detroit, officials discovered a backlog of 11,341 untested kits in 2009. Testing has resulted in the identification of more than 800 potential serial rapists, and DNA has now been linked to crimes committed in 40 states and Washington, D.C. Testing rape kits also saves communities millions of dollars. According to researchers from Case Western Reserve University, testing just 4,300 previously unsubmitted kits in Cleveland saved $38.7 million dollars, or $8,893 per tested sexual assault kit.

With the enactment of S.B. 97, Kentucky has now passed legislation to: test all new and backlogged sexual assault kits; conduct audits of kits in law enforcement custody; track all kits; and provide survivors with access to information about the status of their kit. They have also funded these efforts with a state investment, which will be combined with federal grant dollars. Together, these laws will eliminate the backlog of untested kits, prevent future backlogs, support survivors, and help transform law enforcement’s response to sexual assault.

“Joyful Heart is grateful to State Senators Denise Harper Angel and Whitney Westerfield, who have been steadfast advocates for this work. Kentucky would not have reached reform without the ongoing collaboration with statewide officials, legislators and advocates, and our long-time partner Michelle Kuiper, without whom this effort would not have been possible,” added Knecht.

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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