Ending the Backlog in Ohio: Senator Capri Cafaro

With the passage of Ohio’s new rape kit testing bill—signed into law in December—we are highlighting Ohio State Senator Capri Cafaro, the legislation’s sponsor, as today’s Featured Reformer.

“The time to act is overdue. We have an obligation to assure justice for all victims regardless of when a crime occurred.”
- Ohio State Senator Capri Cafaro

Ohio State Senator Capri Cafaro has been a powerful advocate of ending the backlog of untested rape kits in Ohio. With the passage of Senate Bill 316, sponsored by Cafaro, Ohio is now the sixth state in the country to require law enforcement agencies to send previously unanalyzed rape kits to be tested and to submit all kits for testing moving forward. Ohio follows Illinois, Texas and Colorado.

Ohio’s bill does have some limitations. While similar laws in Illinois and Texas require law enforcement agencies to submit all sexual assault kits for testing, SB 316 only requires agencies to submit a sexual assault kit if the agency determines that a sex crime has occurred once the evidence and report have been reviewed. Additionally, the bill does not lift pre-existing statutes of limitations, meaning only results from sexual assault kits collected in 1994 and after can be used to initiate a new prosecution. Even so, SB 316 is a monumental step forward in clearing the backlog of untested rape kits in the state and ensuring it does not reoccur. 

“This bill is essential to ensuring justice and closure to survivors of these heinous crimes,” Senator Cafaro stated in a press release on SB 316. “I am glad to see that both chambers recognized the importance of this legislation and passed it unanimously.” As of March 2015, 9,237 untested rape kits have been sent into the Bureau of Criminal Investigation for testing. Of those 8,774 kits, 6,577 have been tested, leading to 2,465 hits in CODIS. In Cuyahoga County alone, those hits yielded 255 indictments and 69 convictions. 

Senator Cafaro’s work on the rape kit backlog included sponsoring another bill that was introduced at the same time as SB-316. Last year, Senator Cafaro and former Ohio Senator Nina Turner worked together to introduce legislation that would end the statute of limitations—the time period that a legal proceeding must begin within—on rape and sexual battery. In Ohio, it is currently 20 years. But as untested rape kits are discovered—many dating back years or even decades—and with advances in DNA technology, some states are extending or eliminating the statute of limitations. Unfortunately, the bill did not make it past the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

“The time to act is overdue. We have an obligation to assure justice for all victims regardless of when a crime occurred. It takes time and courage for a victim of a sexual crime to come forward,” Cafaro stated on her work with ending the backlog and extending the statute of limitations, “If [victims] learn that they are unable to seek justice because the law thinks they waited too long, these victims are victimized yet again by the system. Justice should not have an arbitrary timeline.” 

To download an easy to read fact sheet on Ohio’s new rape kit law, click here

For more information on Ohio’s efforts to end their backlog, click here.

- By Sophia Schrager and Vivian Long, March 9, 2015

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.

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