Legislative Success in 2017 and Beyond

2017 was a year of unprecedented progress for our campaign to end the backlog of untested rape kits through state legislative reform. Lawmakers in 34 states introduced 77 bills embracing our six pillars of rape kit reformmore than ever before. And they were more successful than ever: 18 rape kit reform laws and four resolutions passed in 19 states.

These new laws require:

In 2017, Joyful Heart submitted 23 letters in support of rape kit reform legislation in 11 states and Puerto Rico; submitted testimony in support of legislation in four states; helped legislators amend countless drafts of legislation; and worked hand-in-hand with our allies to enact reform.

As we roll up our sleeves and jump into 2018, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the biggest rape kit reform achievements last year and the lessons learned along the way.

Collaborating with Legislators, State Leaders, and Partners

Last year, we worked with dedicated legislators who championed rape kit reform in their states. Here are a few examples of their work:

In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey, Rep. Maria Syms, and Sen. Katie Hobbs championed legislation that added requirements and timelines for testing future rape kits, an annual inventory of kits, as well as an appropriation of $1.2 million to test backlogged kits.

In California, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and Assemblyman David Chiu worked to overcome previous stalled attempts and pass two rape kit reform bills in 2017, strengthening the rights of sexual assault survivors and mandating the tracking of rape kits.

In Idaho, Rep. Melissa Wintrow worked closely with law enforcement and advocates to strengthen rights for sexual assault survivors and expand evidence retention provisions. The bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

In Nevada, the Rape Crisis Center of Las Vegas, the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, Assemblymembers Teresa Benitez-Thompson and Steve Yeager, and the Office of the Attorney General led on legislation that implements timelines and requirements for testing future rape kits, annual reporting, and the establishment of a tracking system, and appropriated $3 million to test backlogged kits.

In Texas, Rep. Donna Howard secured unanimous support from both the House and Senate to pass a bill requiring a tracking system for rape kits.

In Utah, chief sponsor Rep. Angela Romero worked across the aisle with Senate sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler to develop bipartisan support for a significantrape kit reform bill. The law requires annual inventory reports, testing of all rape kits, and the creation of a tracking system.

Engaging Survivors, Local Advocates, and the Public

Survivors’ voices are critical in rape kit reform efforts. In Indiana, Michelle Kuiper’s fearless advocacy led to the adoption of a resolution to conduct a comprehensive inventory of untested rape kits. The audit report, published in November, found 4,980 untested rape kits in storage at law enforcement agencies across Indiana.

Our reform agenda is successful because we work hand-in-hand with local advocates who are experts on the needs of survivors in their state and who are familiar faces in the halls of their state legislators. In 2017, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault was instrumental in providing support for the proposed rape kit tracking bill. The Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, as well as the Rape Crisis Center of Las Vegas, advocated for the passage of a mandatory testing and tracking bill. In Utah, Dr. Julie Valentine of Brigham Young University advocated for the victim-centered language of the inventory, testing, and tracking bill, and helped defuse potential opposition to the bill as it arose.

Engaging our community of supporters to advocate for change was instrumental to our efforts in California. In the summer and fall—when two rape kit reform bills we supported were stuck in committee—we engaged grassroots supporters by email, social media, and on our website, asking them to contact committee members and urge them to consider these bills. They kept the phones ringing, making sure the bill was voted out of committee. When the bill reached Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, we again engaged supporters to contact the Governor and urge him to sign the bill. This extraordinary outpouring of grassroots support was vital to the success of rape kit reform efforts in California.

With your help, we can keep the momentum going in 2018. Let your elected officials know that you support rape kit reform this year.

TAKE ACTION TODAY

- By Ilse Knecht, Policy & Advocacy Director, January 17, 2018

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