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SB 215 Will Allow Sexual Assault Survivors to Track Progress of Rape Kits

SB 215 Will Allow Sexual Assault Survivors to Track Progress of Rape KitsA bill headed to the governor’s desk could add California to the over two dozen states that allow survivors of sexual assault to track and receive updates regarding the status of their rape kits online. The goal of this legislation is to provide survivors a private and secure way to monitor the status of their rape kits, putting some of the power of the criminal justice process back in their hands.

Says Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), sponsor of the bill:

SB 215 prioritizes healing and justice by empowering rape survivors and strengthening public safety. In this digital age, it does not make sense that rape survivors are forced to receive an update on their rape kit by phone or in person when online access is a much more convenient, private and survivor sensitive process. I appreciate the strong support by legislators in both houses and on both sides of the aisle for this vital legislation and am hopeful that the Governor will again stand on the side of rape survivors by signing SB 215 into law.

The bill worked its way through the House and Senate without a single “no” vote. Senator Leyva has introduced previous successful legislation supporting sexual assault survivors – including laws eliminating the statute of limitations on rape, criminalizing sextortion, banning secret settlements in cases of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination, and mandating the prompt processing of rape kits.

About California’s rape kit bill

SB 215 would provide sexual assault survivors a website giving them access to data on the progress and results of their rape kits. Current state law requires authorities to send rape kits to a lab within 20 days, where they must be tested with 120 days of receipt. Giving survivors the ability to track the progress online can add accountability to this process, as well as ensure law enforcement is handling their case within the proper timeline. More importantly, survivors can do so anonymously and privately.

About the rape kit backlog

According to EndTheBacklog.com, California has a backlog of nearly 14,000 kits. Although the state tests all new rape kits, as of yet they have not committed to testing the backlog. Under California law, sexual assault survivors have the right to know whether or not a DNA profile was obtained from their test kit, and whether or not that profile matched another in the database. Law enforcement is also prohibited from destroying rape kits for at least 20 years.

This year, California State Assembly also introduced AB 18, which would have mandated law enforcement to submit backlogged rape kits from 2016 and earlier to crime labs, with testing to bbe completed by January 31, 2024. This bill, however, failed to pass.

Why we need to “end the backlog”

As End The Backlog says about rape kit testing, “Survivors who take this intrusive and extensive step expect that their rape kits will be tested. The public expects the same. Too often, however, rape kits are left untested on evidence room shelves.”

A rape kit, also called a sexual assault forensic exam, collects important evidence and provides medical care after an assault. It can preserve possible DNA evidence should a survivor decide to report the crime. These DNA profiles can be entered into a national database for possible matches with previous offenders. The more kits processed and uploaded, the more information goes into the database – linking more crime scenes and providing more leads for investigators.

This is why it’s so important not just to have current kits processed in a timely manner, but to reduce the backlog of these 14,000 kits in California. Because many sex offenders assault more than one person, the DNA profile from a solved case could help with an unsolved case. Further, law enforcement may be able to link these offenders to other crimes, like burglary or kidnapping.

End The Backlog points out that in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, law enforcement tested over 7,000 backlogged rape kits. Investigators worked with survivors, followed every lead, and prosecuted cases. The results were greatly successful, leading to the conviction of many offenders, preventing future crimes, and saving $38 million for the county.

Why is a rape kit so important?

DNA evidence is one of the most valuable tools in securing justice in a sexual assault case. Although it can be re-traumatizing for the assault survivor, it can be important, and sometimes necessary, for a successful case. The benefits of a sexual assault forensic exam include:

  • Increased chances of identifying and locating the perpetrator. Entering a DNA profile into local and national databases allow authorities to compare it with samples of thousands of known offenders to find a potential match.
  • Better chance of holding the perpetrator responsible. DNA evidence typically carries heavy weight in court. Having this evidence builds a stronger case, in addition to first-hand accounts, physical injuries, and witness statements.
  • Prevention of future sexual assaults. Many sex offenders don’t just assault once – they tend to repeat those assaults. Having the evidence to convict them for their crimes gives survivors the peace of mind that their assailant will not be able to commit future crimes. In the event they are not prosecuted, however, their DNA will remain in the database if they commit another crime.

RAINN provides assistance with locating services for sexual assault forensic exams.

If you or a loved one were raped or sexually assaulted, the Los Angeles attorneys at Taylor & Ring can help. We provide compassionate and experienced support to survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination. To schedule a free consultation, call our office at 310-776-6390, or complete our contact form.

 

 

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