Washington to Implement Final Step in Work to Reform Rape Kit Policies

For Immediate Release: April 23, 2019
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

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NEW YORK – Today, Washington will become the latest state in the country to enact comprehensive rape kit reform. The Joyful Heart Foundation, a national organization working to end the backlog of untested kits nationwide, will attend Governor Jay Inslee’s signing ceremony for H.B. 1166, which mandates that the Washington State Patrol test sexual assault kits within 45 days and requires that law enforcement submit kits collected before July 2015 for testing. Additionally, the law grants survivors critical rights, including the right to be informed of any results of the forensic medical examination.

With its passage, Washington has now enacted all six pillars of reform recommended by Joyful Heart and leaders in this field.

“Washington State—and long-time champion State Rep. Tina Orwall—were early innovators in the work to reform policies for the testing and handling of rape kits. The passage of this final reform demonstrates Washington’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. “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 innocent.”

Mandating the swift testing of every sexual assault kit sends a powerful message to survivors that they – and their cases – matter. It sends a message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their crimes. It is also the pathway to a more effective criminal justice system and safer communities across the country.

For example, in Detroit, officials discovered a backlog of 11,341 untested kits in 2009. Testing has resulted in the identification of more than 800 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.

With the enactment of H.B. 1166, Washington will now have passed legislation to: test all new and backlogged sexual assault kits; conduct quarterly audits of kits in law enforcement custody; track all kits; and provide survivors with access to information about the status of their kit. They have also funded these efforts with a state investment, which will be combined with federal grant dollars. Together, these laws will eliminate the backlog of untested kits, prevent future backlogs, support survivors, and help transform law enforcement’s response to sexual assault.

“Behind every kit is a person—a sexual assault survivor—waiting for justice. We stand with every survivor who has taken the step of reporting the crime to the police and endured an invasive examination in search of DNA evidence left behind by the attacker. Survivors who take this step expect that their rape kits will be tested. The public expects the same,” added Knecht.

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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