Alaska Bill Requiring Audit of Sexual Assault Kits Passes Legislature

For Immediate Release: May 19, 2017
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation applauded the Alaska state legislature’s passage of SB 55 this week, which includes a requirement that law enforcement conduct a one-time audit of untested sexual assault kits across the state. The bill also contains an important oversight provision requiring the Department of Public Safety to report the findings of the audit and develop a plan to address the backlog and prevent a future accumulation.

In 2015, Alaska Governor Bill Walker requested that local law enforcement agencies and certain state departments count how many untested rape kits remained in their evidence rooms. The audit revealed that at least 3,800 rape kits remain untested across Alaska. This new audit in statute would ensure we understand the full extent of the backlog throughout the state and will inform the development of a plan for reform.

“Joyful Heart stands with Rep. Geran Tarr, who led her colleagues including Rep. Chris Tuck and Rep. Gabrielle LaDoux, as well as the tireless advocates who continue to fight for justice in Alaska. We applaud the legislature for taking this important step toward giving survivors an opportunity at long awaited justice,” said Ilse Knecht, Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. “When law enforcement agencies account for the untested kits in their custody, communities can formulate plans to test those kits, hold offenders accountable, and bring justice to sexual assault survivors whose cases have languished, often for years—or even decades.”

DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test these kits. There are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country. We cannot know the true extent of the backlog because few state governments and no federal agencies require that police departments count or track the kits in their possession.

Ending the rape kit backlog will take a coordinated effort and deep commitment at all levels of our government and in communities across the United States. Joyful Heart has developed a national campaign that combines direct legislative efforts, press and media outreach, strategic partnerships, and survivor advocacy. The goal: to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states by 2020.

“We are committed to working with Governor Walker, Alaska state legislature, local advocates, and survivors to build on this momentum and enact comprehensive legislation to eliminate the backlog of untested kits once and for all,” added Knecht. “We stand with every survivor who has taken the step of reporting the crime to the police and endured an invasive examination in search of DNA evidence left behind by the attacker. Every untested kit represents a missed opportunity to bring justice and healing to a survivor and increased safety to a community.”

This work takes political will, but it also takes significant resources. Joyful Heart is committed to advocating for funding—like that which was awarded to the Alaska Department of Public Safety—to help implement comprehensive reform.

Joyful Heart has created the premier national resource about the rape kit backlog, which includes an interactive map and resources for survivors, legislators, and the media. Learn more at: 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. www.joyfulheartfoundation.org

keep up with backlog news

END THE BACKLOG is a JOYFUL HEART FOUNDATION initiative and a proud supporter of