Student Leader Creates Mock Legislation, Raises Real Awareness

Ella and others at the Kentucky Youth Assembly, where they presented mock legislation to eliminate the state's rape kit backlog.

In 2010, the Joyful Heart Foundation‘s second issue of Reunion featured a story of a young girl whose big voice is matched only by her bigger heart. Ella Burnside was given an assignment from her English teacher: write about something in the world you want to change, and then do it. Ella wrote about ending sexual violence and domestic abuse, and then went about raising over $10,000 for Joyful Heart. She was in tenth grade.

This school year, Ella attended a youth government conference in her home state of Kentucky. There, she and several of her classmates presented a bill to the mock legislature calling for the elimination of Kentucky’s backlog of untested rape kits and proposing a timeline to get the kits tested. Several news sources, including CBS and WLKY, have reported on the state crime lab’s backlog of hundreds of kits.

As Ella reported to us, her bill sailed through the mock House and Senate, with approximately 95% of her peers voting for it. “I am confident that they truly understood the importance of eliminating KY’s backlog and that many of them were immensely disturbed by the situation,” Ella told us. “While this was not actually presented to our state government, it was really neat to see that once people hear and understand this problem, most of them are ready to take action to reverse the situation. Hopefully the legislators in my state will react in the same way when they become aware of our backlog.”

At the end of the conference, the bill was ultimately vetoed by the conference’s student governor due to budget constraints, an outcome not unfamiliar to those working to reform rape kit testing across the country. In 2009, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill, AB1017, which would have made his the first state in the nation to collect comprehensive data on the physical evidence collected from rape victims that is sitting in police storage facilities, citing resource constraints. You can read the Huffington Post article that Sarah Tofte, Joyful Heart’s Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships, wrote on his decision here.

Ella’s thoughtful work — and the response of the fellow student leaders in Kentucky — is encouraging news. If you or someone you know is doing something to raise awareness of the rape kit backlog or to contribute to the movement to end sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, we want to know about it!  Send an email to

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