Maryland Passes Law to Test Rape Kits

For Immediate Release: April 18, 2019
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

NEW YORK – After years of advocacy, the Joyful Heart Foundation today celebrated Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s signing of H.B. 1096, which will ensure most rape kits are submitted to a crime lab and tested in a timely manner. This effort, coupled with the $3.5 million the legislature has appropriated to test kits, standardizes rape kit handling processes throughout Maryland and sends a message to survivors that they matter.

“Behind every kit is a person—a sexual assault survivor—waiting for justice,” said Ilse Knecht, Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. “The rape kit backlog represents a failure of the criminal justice system to protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. We can and must do better. When jurisdictions test every kit, they solve crimes, bring answers and a path to justice for survivors, take criminals off the streets, and exonerate the innocent.”

“We are grateful to the local advocates who worked tirelessly on this effort, as well as Delegate Shelly Hettleman, Senator Will Smith, Attorney General Brian Frosh and the members of the Maryland Sexual Assault Evidence Kit and Policy Funding Committee for their dedication to preventing a backlog from ever occurring again,” added Knecht.

DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test sexual assault kits. Some officials actively choose not to test all rape kits because they fail to see the value of testing every kit. Joyful Heart and other experts in this work have long disputed that idea and support the testing of all rape kits booked into evidence and connected to a sexual assault reported to law enforcement.

Testing all rape kits not only makes communities safer, it can also save millions of dollars. According to researchers from Case Western Reserve University, testing just 4,300 previously unsubmitted kits in Cleveland saved $38.7 million, or $8,893 per tested sexual assault kit.

Joyful Heart has developed a national campaign to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states framed around six pillars for reform. Testing new rape kits is a critical pillar of reform and, with the new appropriated funding, is the fifth approved by the state legislature. Learn more about the state’s progress at: http://www.endthebacklog.org/maryland.

H.B. 1096, and its Senate companion S.B. 767, requires that law enforcement submit rape kits to a crime lab for testing unless the victim does not consent to testing, there is clear evidence disproving the allegation, or the suspect is in the national DNA database (CODIS) and has pled guilty to the assault. Law enforcement would be required to submit all other kits for analysis within 30 days of receipt from a medical facility, and a lab would be required to test kits in a timely manner. Additionally, the Funding Committee will establish an independent process to review and make recommendations regarding law enforcement decisions not to test kits. This provision will ensure decisions not to test kits are fully examined and explained.

In February 2019, Joyful Heart’s Associate Director of Policy & Advocacy Lily Rocha delivered testimony in support of the bill: “By requiring every sexual assault kit to be swiftly submitted and tested, Maryland can send a powerful message to survivors that they—and their cases—matter. Testing every kit also sends a message to perpetrators that law enforcement will employ every available tool to apprehend and prosecute them. Essentially, it is the pathway to a more effective criminal justice system and safer communities across the country.”

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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