West Virginia Takes First Step Toward Rape Kit Reform

For Immediate Release: April 3, 2018
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation today applauded the signing into law of West Virginia Senate Bill 36, which amends procedures regarding DNA testing and directs the Sexual Assault Forensic Commission to establish best practice protocols for the submission, storage and disposition of rape kits. This legislation, championed by Sen. Mike Woelfel, is an important step toward comprehensive rape kit reform.

“The rape kit backlog represents a failure of the criminal justice system to protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. Joyful Heart stands with the Sexual Assault Forensic Commission and the tireless advocates who have fought for justice in West Virginia,” said Ilse Knecht, Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. “When law enforcement agencies commit to address the untested kits in their custody, communities can begin to take steps to test those kits, hold offenders accountable and bring justice to sexual assault survivors whose cases have languished, often for years—or even decades.”

DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test these kits. It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country. Because most jurisdictions do not have systems for tracking or counting rape kits, we cannot be sure of the total number.

Since 2010, Joyful Heart has made the elimination of the rape kit backlog a top priority through its End the Backlog initiative. Through partnerships with federal, state and local government, non-profit organizations, law enforcement, advocates and survivors, we are working to bring attention, critical funding, and reforms to improve the criminal justice response to sexual violence.

“We are committed to working with advocates in West Virginia to pursue important legislative reforms, and hope this law helps inspire action,” added Knecht. “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. Every untested kit represents a missed opportunity to bring justice and healing to a survivor and increased safety to a community.”

Ending the rape kit backlog will take a coordinated effort and deep commitment at all levels of our government and in communities across the United States. Joyful Heart has developed a national campaign to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states. Learn more about West Virginia’s progress.

This work takes political will, but it also takes significant resources.

Joyful Heart is committed to advocating for funding to help implement comprehensive reform.

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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