The California Senate Public Safety Committee passed SB 22 — also known as the “Sexual Assault Victims’ DNA Bill of Rights” — on Tuesday, according to a press release by District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, who co-sponsored the legislation.
This bill requires that sexual assault kits booked into evidence be submitted to a crime lab within 20 days and that this evidence be processed within 120 days after a crime lab receives it. During the hearing at which the bill was presented, state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, the author of the bill, said its goal is to ensure that there is never another backlog of sexual assault kits in California.
According to Amanda Stephens, a member of the board of directors of the Joyful Heart Foundation, another important difference between existing laws and the bill that was just passed through the committee is the use of one word: “should.”
Currently, Penal Code 680 says that when the police receive a sexual assault kit, they “should” send it to a crime lab. The Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization whose mission is to transform society’s response to sexual assault, looked into how many jurisdictions followed the guidelines this law suggested by issuing open records requests to eight jurisdictions. Stephens said in the hearing for the bill that they found that six out of eight of these jurisdictions did not follow this suggestion or did not have a way to count how many rape kits they had received.
“By passing SB 22 and changing the ‘should’ to a ‘shall’ and testing all sexual assault kits, California will take dangerous, violent offenders off the streets,” Stephens said in the hearing.
In 2016, the Berkeley Police Department was discovered to have left evidence from a sexual assault kit that had been untouched for six years, only sending it for testing in 2014. At that time, Alameda County possessed 1,900 untested sexual assault kits.
In the hearing for the bill, O’Malley said she has ensured that there is no backlog of sexual assault kits in Alameda County. BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White said in an email that this was true for Berkeley as well. Senator Nancy Skinner, the District 9 representative, said in the hearing that this bill was important to bring forward.
“I hope we get to the point where every single sexual assault is reported, all evidence is tested, and we can end this and resolve the crimes,” Skinner said in the hearing.
Given that the UC Berkeley Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination received 171 sexual violence allegations in 2018 and that there are currently 15 pending case investigations, this bill could impact the way sexual assault is treated on campus.
ASUC Senator Zach Carter said in an email that he believes that it could affect a number of people who come forward about sexual assault.
“Reporting is a stressful process already, and survivors deserve the most expedited and equitable reporting methods available, and SB22 would help streamline a process that’s inherently stressful and burdensome,” Carter said in an email.