Maryland Sends Bill to Track Rape Kits to Governor’s Desk

NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation today applauded the Maryland state legislature’s passage of H.B. 1124, which requires the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK) Policy and Funding Committee to develop recommendations to create and operate a statewide rape kit tracking system that will be accessible to victims of sexual assault. Tracking sexual assault kits in law enforcement custody is a critical piece of rape kit reform and adds to the efforts championed by State Delegate Shelly Hettleman to address the handling of rape kits in Maryland.

“Joyful Heart applauds the SAEK Committee, under the leadership of Attorney General Brian Frosh, for its commitment to rape kit reform. H.B. 1124 is an important step forward for the standardization of rape kit handling across the state,” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy for Joyful Heart. “Statewide tracking systems are an important accountability mechanism for ensuring that all rape kits associated with a reported crime are collected, transported, and tested in an expeditious manner. When law enforcement agencies track the untested kits in their custody, communities can begin to 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.”

When tested, DNA evidence from rape kits can be a powerful tool to solve and prevent crimes. It can identify unknown assailants, confirm known suspects, identify serial offenders by linking crimes together, and exonerate the innocent. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test these kits. In fact, there are currently hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country, and at least 3,700 identified to date in Maryland.

Ending the rape kit backlog will take a coordinated effort and deep commitment at all levels of our government and in communities across the United States. Joyful Heart has developed a national campaign to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states, based on six pillars. With H.B. 1124, Maryland has passed three out of the six pillars into law. Learn more about Maryland’s progress at: www.endthebacklog.org/maryland.

The bill also requires the SAEK Committee apply for federal funds to implement rape kit reforms. Joyful Heart has been a lead advocate of the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, and will continue to champion federal funds that assist jurisdictions working to implement comprehensive reform.

“We are committed to working with the SAEK Committee to provide our expertise and resources in helping craft reforms that are survivor-centered and trauma-informed,” 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.

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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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