Legislative Landscape of Rape Kit Reform: 2016

The backlog of untested rape kits has touched nearly every corner of the country. It seems every week, a community discovers rape kits that have never been sent to the lab for analysis. Untested rape kits mean that dangerous offenders have been allowed to remain on the streets—free to offend with impunity—and survivors of these crimes are denied access to justice. 

The good news is that there is a real movement for change occurring right now. Joyful Heart is proud to be part of it by making rape kit testing top advocacy priority. Our goal? A policy for rape kit testing in all fifty states. To this end, we are working with many state legislators to enact strong and effective rape kit reform laws.  

Joyful Heart is tracking and monitoring rape kit reform bills and will continue to press for passage of measures that eliminate the backlog, ensure swift testing of each rape kit connected to a reported crime, increase accountability and transparency, and create rights for survivors.  

We are a little over a month into many 2016 state legislative sessions and here's where we stand:

  • More than 45 bills have been introduced in 19 states that seek rape kit testing reform.
  • These bills range from a one-time audit of untested rape kits to ones that include mandatory submission deadlines, turnaround times for labs to test kits, and victim notification rights.

It's clear that legislators are taking note of the need for change.

Here are the details:

Statewide audits 

Arizona, Iowa, New Hampshire, and New York are among the states that currently have statewide audit measures pending. These laws would require every law enforcement agency in the state count every untested kit in their inventory, record the reason it was untested and the date it was collected.  A few state bills would require annual counts, including California, Georgia and Illinois.  

Testing timelines and mandatory submissions

Eleven states are currently considering legislation that would set timelines for law enforcement to submit a rape kit for testing.  In Hawai‘i, New Jersey, and New York, law enforcement would have 10 days for rape kit submission under proposed laws.  In Florida, legislators are asking for kits to be submitted in 21 days; Georgia and Hawai‘i within 30 days. These bills would remove law enforcement discretion about which kits get sent for testing. Instead, they would require each kit to be analyzed, a requirement that Joyful Heart strongly supports. 

Crime lab turnaround time—the time it takes for a rape kit to be tested after it has actually been submitted to a lab by law enforcement—is addressed in many pending bills, ranging from six months in Hawai‘i and Massachusetts to 60 days by the year 2020 in Kentucky.

Funding

Legislators in several states are also taking steps to fund crime labs. The New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill that provides $2.3 million for lab personnel and to expand lab capacity. Kentucky’s pending legislation includes $5 million for lab equipment needed for rape kit testing, and it would also expedite the equipment acquisition process.  

Tracking

Setting up mechanisms to track rape kits from hospital to police department to the lab makes the system more transparent, promotes compliance and can provide a way for a survivor check on the status of his or her kit.  Florida, Hawai‘i, Massachusetts and Washington all include creating rape kit tracking programs in legislative proposals. 

Notifying and re-engaging survivors 

Notifying and re-engaging survivors in untested rape kit cases is one of the most important choice points along the way to backlog elimination. Joyful Heart is glad to see some states addressing this through legislation; Kentucky, Illinois, Massachusetts and Virginia bills provide some rights for survivors to know the status of their kits at certain in the process.    

-By Ilse Knecht, February 9th, 2016 

END THE BACKLOG is an initiative 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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