Massachusetts Legislature Passes Sweeping Reform to Address Rape Kit Reform

For Immediate Release: April 4, 2018
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

NEW YORK – After announcing Massachusetts as a priority state for rape kit reform only a few months ago, the Joyful Heart Foundation today celebrated the state legislature’s passage of S. 2371, the omnibus criminal justice bill that includes sweeping changes for the handling and processing of sexual assault kits.

“Today’s passage is nothing short of extraordinary. Led by House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, Massachusetts has become a national leader in the movement to end the backlog of untested rape kits,” said Sarah Haacke Byrd, Joyful Heart’s Managing Director. “This staggering achievement demonstrates the Commonwealth’s commitment to offering a path to healing and justice for sexual assault survivors and strengthening public safety for its citizens.”

Joyful Heart is implementing an ambitious national campaign to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states framed around six pillars for reform. With today’s passage, five of the six pillars will be enacted in Massachusetts. The language: mandates an annual statewide inventory of rape kits, the timely testing of newly collected rape kits, and the submission and testing of all backlogged kits; establishes a statewide rape kit tracking system; and grants victims the right to know the status of their kits.

This accomplishment reflects the dedication and hard work of Minority Leader Jones, as well as Sen. Cynthia Creem, Rep. Gentile Carmine, and Rep. Natalie Higgins. Joyful Heart also applauds the other conference committee members who ensured that the provisions remained in the final criminal justice bill, including: Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, Sen. Will Brownsberger, House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, Rep. Claire Cronin, and Rep. Sheila Harrington.

“It has been inspiring to watch Massachusetts legislators work across the aisle to bring about these reforms to make the state a national leader and serve as an example for the rest of the nation,” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy for Joyful Heart. “The rape kit reforms in the omnibus criminal justice bill send a message to survivors that they—and their cases—matter. They demonstrate a commitment to survivors to do everything possible to bring healing and justice. They also send a clear message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their crimes.”

DNA evidence – found in sexual assault kits – is an invaluable investigative tool. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test these kits. Joyful Heart has identified more than 225,000 untested rape kits sitting in police, crime lab or other storage facilities across the United States. And, with nearly 20 states remaining that have yet to count the untested rape kits in their possession, we believe there are several hundred thousand more yet to be discovered. Because most law enforcement agencies do not have systems for tracking or counting rape kits, we cannot be sure of the total number.

This work takes political will, but it also takes significant resources. Joyful Heart is committed to advocating for funding to help implement comprehensive reform.

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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