Over the past several weeks, the colors of the ENDTHEBACKLOG map, which demonstrates everything we currently know about the rape kit backlog nationwide, have been changing. These changing colors represent the work legislators and communities across the country are doing to reform their states’ responses to the backlog.
As we have reported previously, since January, nine states have introduced legislation to address their backlogs in one or more respects. Six of these pieces of legislation would require the testing of all newly collected rape kits. Six of the bills would require law enforcement agencies to conduct an inventory of the untested kits in their custody. Four bills call for the testing of all previously untested rape kits. Three bills address victim notification—the process of keeping survivors informed about the status of their rape kits.
Since the end of March, three bills have become law. Most recently, Tennessee’s governor signed a bill that requires law enforcement to inventory the untested rape kits in their possession and report the total to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation by July 1, 2014.
In Utah, the legislature enacted a law that amends the state’s victim’s bill of rights to include the right to information about the status of a rape kit and the results of testing when the survivor requests such information. The law also requires law enforcement to notify survivors when they do not intend to analyze rape kit evidence and the perpetrator is unknown, and when law enforcement plans to destroy rape kit evidence.
Finally, like Tennessee, Virginia’s new law requires law enforcement agencies to conduct and report an inventory of the untested kits in their custody to the Department of Forensic Science. The Department is then to submit a report to the General Assembly summarizing the results on or before July 1, 2015. The bill also stated that its provisions will not take effect unless the General Assembly makes an appropriation to fund the legislation's requirements.
Each of the bills introduced so far this legislative session represents a powerful and critical step toward comprehensive rape kit reform. To end the backlog entirely and prevent future backlogs, however, additional reforms are needed.
States must hold all law enforcement agencies accountable for the untested rape kits in their custody, require the testing of all rape kits booked into evidence and connected to a reported sexual assault and ensure that survivors’ wishes to re-engage with the criminal justice process—or not—are honored. State legislatures hold the key to ensuring that all of this is possible and must invest fully in ending the backlog and bringing justice to survivors.
- By Liz Swavola, May 12, 2014
ENDTHEBACKLOG is a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.