New Jersey Enacts First Step in Rape Kit Reform

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

NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation today applauded New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s signing of S.1216, which requires a one-time inventory of all untested rape kits in the state. This legislation is New Jersey’s first step toward comprehensive rape kit reform.

DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test sexual assault 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 many jurisdictions do not have systems for counting rape kits, we cannot be sure of the total number. The extent of the untested rape kit backlog in New Jersey is unknown, but this new law will provide much needed clarity.

“The rape kit backlog represents a failure of the criminal justice system to protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. Joyful Heart is proud to support the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault and elected officials who are working toward rape kit reform,” said Ilse Knecht, Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. “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.”

Under the law, the Attorney Generalin consultation with the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assaultis required to conduct a survey of sexual assault examination kits in the possession of law enforcement agencies in this state that have not been submitted to a laboratory for testing. The survey is required to include, but not be limited to, questions concerning: agency policies and procedures governing the submission of sexual assault examination kits to an approved forensic laboratory for testing, including specific submission criteria, timelines, and victim notifications; agency policies and procedures for logging, tracking, and storing sexual assault examination kits; descriptive, statistical, and other relevant information about the sexual assault examination kits currently in the agency’s possession. The bill requires the Attorney General to distribute the survey to all law enforcement agencies in the state and requires these agencies to submit responses in a timely manner.

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 audit is a critical pillar of reform. Learn more about progress at: http://www.endthebacklog.org/new-jersey.

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