Lawmakers Urge Reforms to Sexual Assault Kit Processing, Access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners

Statement

Date: Oct. 9, 2017
Location: Washington, DC

Members of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence this week introduced H. Res. 550, a bipartisan resolution urging states to pass comprehensive reforms to improve the handling and processing of sexual assault kits and expand access to sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) by 2020. The Task Force is chaired by Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), David Joyce (R-Oh.) and Jackie Speier (D-Ca.). Five additional lawmakers from both parties have co-sponsored the resolution.

The resolution calls on states to develop sexual assault kit tracking systems, to submit previously untested sexual assault kits to a laboratory and require DNA testing within a specific timeframe, and to make sexual assault victim advocates available to survivors upon report of an assault to law enforcement, among other measures.

The resolution follows a June Task Force roundtable featuring Mariska Hargitay, founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation and star of Law and Order: SVU, which focused on the sexual assault kit backlog and access to SANE nurses.

"The hours immediately following a sexual assault can be the most traumatic for survivors, and they're critically important to any future effort to seek justice and prosecute the perpetrator," said Congressman Meehan. "But today thousands of sexual assault kits, the result of lengthy forensic exams conducted just hours after an assault, remain untested. These kits can contain invaluable DNA evidence that will help individuals victimized by assault obtain justice and begin healing. While there's no single solution to solving the backlog, there's more states can be doing -- more to quickly and efficiently process these kits and conduct needed DNA testing, and more to ensure a survivor-centered response that helps victims seek justice and aid their recovery."

"It is unconscionable that jurisdictions across the country are not testing evidence that could put rapists behind bars and prevent future assaults" said Congresswoman Kuster. "This legislation will help states take steps to reduce their sexual assault kit backlogs and expand access to critical services for survivors of sexual violence. I am proud of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence for leading the effort to address this crisis and look forward to working with them to see this bill signed into law."

"In Northeast Ohio, we are already realizing the benefits of testing backlogged kits," said Congressman Joyce. "We're arresting and prosecuting hundreds of serial sex offenders, thereby preventing further crime from these perpetrators. Many victims whose cases could have been investigated and prosecuted several years ago are finally receiving justice. The hope is that across the U.S. other cities, counties and states will start to replicate this practice."

"I have long been outraged by the existence of any backlog in sexual assault kit testing. The fact that there is not only a backlog, but a severe backlog, is another slap in the face of sexual assault survivors and every right-thinking citizen of this country. Apparently it's not degrading enough that survivors aren't believed or are accused of somehow causing their own assaults -- we have to discriminate against their forensic evidence too. There is no clearer demonstration of our country's lack of regard for sexual assault survivors," said Congresswoman Speier. "I'm proud to support this bipartisan legislation, alongside my co-chairs of the Task Force, and hope that it will motivate states to quickly move to remedy this bureaucratic discrimination against survivors."

"Ending the rape kit backlog will take a coordinated effort and deep commitment at all levels of government and in communities across the United States. We are grateful to the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence for recognizing the importance of nationwide engagement on key pillars of rape kit reform," said Sarah Haacke Byrd, Managing Director for the Joyful Heart Foundation, which is pursuing a national campaign to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states by 2020. "When the extent of a jurisdiction's backlog is revealed, real reform can begin. When law enforcement agencies account for 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."

"The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) commends Rep. Patrick Meehan and the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence for their leadership in advancing policies and practices that support survivors of sexual violence," said Donna Greco, PCAR's Policy Director. "PCAR supports H. Res. 550, which would ensure rape kit evidence is properly collected, tested, and stored with survivor consent and in collaboration with trauma-informed practitioners."


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