Law will Increase Accountability, Transparency for Sexual Assault Survivors
By Melissa Schwartz, endthebacklog.org
The Joyful Heart Foundation, a leader in the effort to provide cities and states with the resources they need to address their backlog of rape kits, today applauded New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s signing of New York Senate Bill 8117, which takes meaningful steps to address the backlog of untested rape kits in the state. With this bill, New York has joined the growing number of states that have enacted rape kit reform laws.
DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. When tested, rape kit evidence can identify an unknown assailant, connect the suspect to other crime scenes, and exonerate the wrongly convicted. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test these kits. Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country.
The extent of the untested rape kit backlog in New York State is unknown, however, the new law requires a statewide audit of all untested rape kits in law enforcement custody to be conducted by March 1, 2017. The new law mandates New York law enforcement agencies to submit every rape kit to the crime lab for testing within 10 days of receipt and requires the lab to test the kit within 90 days. In addition, all previously untested rape kits found in the state audit must be sent to the lab for analysis. The law increases accountability and transparency by requiring quarterly reports from the crime labs and law enforcement on the sexual assault kits in their possession and their status.
Below is a statement from Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation:
“The Joyful Heart Foundation is proud to stand with sponsors State Senator J. Kemp Hannon and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and our advocacy partners who fought for the passage of this important legislation to provide survivors of sexual assault with the justice they deserve.
“There is no excuse for complacency on the processing of rape kit evidence. We believe strongly in the value of the mandatory submission and testing of every rape kit booked into evidence and connected to a reported sexual assault.
“Every untested kit represents a missed opportunity to bring justice and healing to a survivor and increased safety to a community.
“We stand with every survivor who has taken the courageous step of reporting the crime to the police and endured an invasive examination in search of DNA evidence left behind by the attacker.
“This law – and laws like it across the country – will expand what we know about the true extent of the number of untested rape kits and will result in thousands of cases for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute. Joyful Heart will continue to advocate for state and federal funds to help jurisdictions implement comprehensive reform, and stands ready to provide assistance to any community working to address its untested kit backlog.”
For background and further information on the rape kit backlog, go to EndTheBacklog.org.
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. Visit www.joyfulheartfoundation.org to find out more.