North Carolina Takes Important Step in Work to Reform Rape Kit Policies

NEW YORK – Following a state audit that revealed 15,160 untested rape kits in law enforcement custody across the state, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has signed H945 into law. The new law mandates the development of a system to track sexual assault evidence kits across the state.

“Behind every kit is a person—a sexual assault survivor—waiting for justice. This legislation demonstrates North Carolina’s commitment to offering a path to healing and justice for sexual assault survivors and strengthening public safety for its citizens,” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy for Joyful Heart. “Ensuring all stakeholders in the criminal justice process can know the location and status of all newly collected sexual assault evidence kits will bring transparency to evidence kit processing and prevent a backlog from happening again.”

As Joyful Heart’s survivor-focused research shows, giving survivors a choice about how to receive information about their case can help counter the loss of self-determination and control at the core of the sexual assault experience. Building a rape kit tracking system with a portal for survivors to check the status of their kit at their convenience can give survivors the control they need to heal on their own terms.

The bill also includes language that demonstrates a legislative intent to test every kit in the state, asserting that “the preservation and testing of sexual assault evidence collection kits (SAECK or “kit”) are important to public safety. Timely testing is vital to solve cases, punish offenders, bring justice to victims, and prevent future crimes. It is the intent of the General Assembly that every sexual assault evidence collection kit in North Carolina be tested.”

When tested, rape kit evidence can identify an unknown assailant, reveal serial offenders, and exonerate the wrongly convicted. For example, in Detroit, officials discovered a backlog of 11,341 untested kits in 2009. Testing has resulted in the identification of more than 850 potential serial rapists, and DNA has now been linked to crimes committed in 40 states and Washington, D.C. Testing rape kits also saves communities millions of dollars. According to researchers from Case Western Reserve University, testing just 4,300 previously unsubmitted kits in Cleveland saved $38.7 million dollars, or $8,893 per tested sexual assault kit.

“Establishing a sexual assault kit tracking system is a step toward increased rape kit handling accountability and transparency. We applaud the work of our partners to champion this important progress in North Carolina and will continue to work with the legislature on additional reforms, including a legislative mandate to test all backlogged and future kits,” said Knecht.

Joyful Heart is implementing an ambitious national campaign to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states framed around six pillars of reform. Learn more about North Carolina’s progress at: http://www.endthebacklog.org/north-carolina.

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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