Oklahoma Moves to Test all Rape Kits

For Immediate Release: May 15, 2019
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

NEW YORK – Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has signed S.B. 975 into law, which will ensure that all rape kits are submitted to a crime lab and tested in a timely manner. The Joyful Heart Foundation, which has for years advocated for rape kit reform in the state, praised today’s action as one of many steps the state is taking toward progress.

“Behind every rape kit is a person—a sexual assault survivor—waiting for justice,” said Ilse Knecht, Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. “The rape kit backlog represents a failure of the criminal justice system to protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. We can and must do better. When jurisdictions test every kit, they solve crimes, bring answers and a path to justice for survivors, take criminals off the streets, and exonerate the wrongly convicted.”

Championed by State Senator Kay Floyd and Representative Jon Echols, S.B. 975 mandates that law enforcement submit rape kits to a crime lab for testing within 20 days of receiving the evidence, with priority given to kits that will yield evidentiary value to the investigation and prosecution of the alleged sexual assault. Additionally, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) and each crime lab in the state must adopt procedures for the collection, submission, and testing of newly collected rape kits, as well as implement a protocol for prioritizing the testing backlogged kits.

Testing all rape kits not only makes communities safer, it can also save millions of dollars. According to researchers from Case Western Reserve University, testing just 4,300 previously unsubmitted kits in Cleveland saved $38.7 million, or $8,893 per tested sexual assault kit.

This year, Oklahoma also enacted a law (S.B. 967) to require OSBI to create a statewide rape kit tracking system for newly collected and backlogged kits, which must include a portal to allow survivors to access the system. Another law (S.B. 971) requires that the state council on law enforcement education and training (CLEET) develop training for law enforcement on trauma-informed sexual assault responses and requires all law enforcement complete the training.

Joyful Heart has developed a national campaign to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states framed around six pillars for reform. Learn more about efforts in the state at: http://www.endthebacklog.org/oklahoma.

“The significant progress that has been made this year is a testament to the hard work of the Oklahoma Task Force on Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence, members of the state legislature, and long-time advocates including Danielle Tudor. We are dedicated to continuing to work with champions in the state on additional reforms, including establishing in law a victims’ rights to know the status of their rape kit,” added Knecht.

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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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