Proposed state assembly bill to address rape kit backlog

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State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner announced a bill Tuesday addressing the backlog of rape kits in Alameda County in a move she hopes will finally grant justice to sexual assault victims.

The bill sets a timeline for processing DNA evidence taken from sexual assault victims and compiled in these rape kits while calling for greater transparency throughout the investigation process. According to the Alameda County district attorney’s office, there are currently 1,900 rape kits that have gone untested in Alameda County alone.

The bill would require law enforcement agencies to send rape kits to crime labs within five days of being booked into evidence. Afterward, crime labs would have 30 days to process the kits, create DNA profiles if possible and upload the profiles to a database.

The issue was brought to Skinner’s attention after she followed media reports and interviews with sexual assault victims. As current legislation does not set a definite timeline for processing rape kits or communicating with victims, several survivors have been left in the dark.

“Nine times out of 10, the victim didn’t know that the evidence was never sent to a crime lab,” Skinner said. “If you don’t know that, you have no resource to try to challenge or find out why.”

Skinner added that when the victims finally discovered the evidence had not been examined, they often felt as if they had been assaulted for a second time.

“Part of this effort is for victims to feel that there is a real commitment to bring justice,” she said. “We’re going to do our best to go after their assailants.”

In response to the turmoil victims experience, the proposed legislation requires law enforcement agencies to inform the sexual assault victims if the agencies miss their deadlines or decide not to analyze the evidence.
Skinner collaborated with Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, whose office sponsors the bill, to outline the timeline proposed in the bill.

The DNA cold case unit of O’Malley’s office advises detectives on unsolved crimes and recommends forensic testing techniques. Spokesperson for the district attorney’s office Teresa Drenick noted the importance of working with individual agencies to address specific problems that arise in the different procedures for dealing with rape kits.

“(The bill) would be a very good, strong first step to tackling the problem,” Drenick said. “It’s agency by agency … you can’t paint them all with the same brush stroke.”

CalSERVE campus mobilizing coordinator Ali Arman agreed the bill was a step in the right direction. Arman asserted the large number of unprocessed rape kits sends a “tacit message to survivors that their stories don’t matter” and discredits the state’s promises of concern as “all talk.”

She explained that only after institutional changes are made could this message be reversed and the state’s concerns for sexual assault be taken seriously.

Contact Tahmina Achekzai at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tahminachekzai.