By Kevin Frazzini
No testing, no healing.
In some states, untested rape kits can languish in storage for years. In others, a kit can be discarded unless the assault survivor regularly requests that it be preserved.
For some survivors, that means the traumatic effects of an assault can linger. For one, it meant either filing criminal charges against her attacker or requesting every six months that her rape-kit evidence not be destroyed.
“I was being forced to live my life by the date of my rape,” she says.
The backlog of untested rape kits is one of the biggest challenges for the American justice system in dealing with sexual assault, NCSL’s Rich Williams writes in this month’s State Legislatures. Nationwide, an estimated 172,000 kits remain untested.
State lawmakers are working to change that. Last year, 19 states and the District of Columbia enacted laws to bolster their response to sex crimes and reduce the testing backlog. Hawaii lawmakers, for example, appropriated $500,000 for testing, which costs between $500 and $1,500 per kit. New York put in place new procedures to ensure the timely testing and transfer of evidence from medical to law enforcement professionals. And, increasingly, survivors are being included in the policymaking process because their experiences reveal flaws in current practices, Williams writes.
Survivors were instrumental in moving New York’s measure forward.
“We put a face on why this legislation is necessary,” says one New York survivor, who waited nine years for her rape kit to be analyzed, but eventually saw her assailant convicted.
Officials are finding that solving one sex crime can sometimes solve several, even many more, because some offenders are serial rapists. Testing 6,397 kits in Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, resulted in 553 indictments (including 146 potential serial offenders) and 246 convictions as of mid-January 2017. Four serial rapists had assaulted 52 different victims.
This year, lawmakers are considering at least 30 measures related to sexual assault, and more than ever, they’re ensuring that survivors are included in the process. Read the story here.
Kevin Frazzini is the assistant editor of State Legislatures magazine.