State and Community Leaders Advanced Rape Kit Reform in 2017

Last year, legislators from 34 states took action to eliminate their state’s backlog of untested rape kits. Other elected officials and state leaders bolstered these efforts, ensuring that elected officials from attorneys general to governors are exercising the full authority of their offices to offer a path to justice for survivors, apprehend offenders, and make communities safer. This is a sampling of some of their work from last year. We thank them for taking action to improve the response to sexual assault survivors and provide survivors with greater access to justice.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

In 2017, survivor advocate Danielle Tudor worked with Oklahoma legislators to enact bills to inventory untested kits in the state because the extent of the state’s backlog was unknown. One bill, S.B. 654, which stalled in committee, caught the attention of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin when the sponsor, Senator Kay Floyd, began conversations with Governor Fallin’s office. Governor Fallin supported the bill, and to advance the inventory and ensure action would be taken as soon as possible, she issued an Executive Order in April to convene a new task force. This group must conduct a statewide inventory of untested rape kits, as well as study the process for handling, collection, and analysis of rape kits in Oklahoma, and report their findings and recommendations by July 2018.

As Danielle noted, of the over 2,000 bills filed with the Oklahoma State Legislature during the 2017 session, S.B. 654 is the only bill that became an Executive Order.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley sprang into action following a media article discussing the possibility of a backlog in the state. Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, Ilse Knecht, explained to the Missourian the importance of testing every rape kit associated with a reported crime because it links crimes together.

Less than two weeks after the story was published, Attorney General Hawley announced his office would immediately undertake a thorough statewide inventory of untested rape kits. As discussed in his press release:

Rape kits provide a powerful tool for identifying and prosecuting potential sex criminals. But both in Missouri and across the country, thousands of rape kits go untested, hamstringing law enforcement efforts to prosecute offenders. Every rape kit that goes untested means a rapist who remains on the streets, able to attack again, and a survivor who is denied justice. This is unacceptable. Our investigation will determine the scope of the problem in Missouri, the agencies responsible, and the ways we can implement reform.

We know that rapists are often repeat offenders—and commit other crimes—making it imperative that states confront the issue, conduct an inventory of their untested kits, and devise action plans to test them, investigate leads, support survivors, and prosecute cases.

Idaho State Police

2017 was the first full year of operation of IKTS, the Idaho State Police (ISP) rape kit tracking system. Led by Laboratory Systems Director Matthew Gamette, ISP built the system fully in-house, creating the first statewide system of its kind in the entire country. Since then, Idaho has become a resource for other states looking to build their own systems. ISP offers their customizable software to these jurisdictions for free, lessening any possible fiscal impact for states and removing a common obstacle.

Matthew also led a working group with Representative Melissa Wintrow, partnering on legislation to establish the tracking system. The passion and dedication to survivors from a multitude of state leaders in Idaho led to the country’s first statewide tracking system. The first system-generated report is due this month to the Idaho legislature.

Multidisciplinary Teams

Across the country, local and statewide multidisciplinary teams have collaborated on systemic reform of the rape kit handling process. In some jurisdictions, these teams are convened through the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant program, a federal grant awarded to a multidisciplinary team of professionals involved in improving the rape kit handling process, including medical and law enforcement professionals, forensic analysts, and victim advocates. In 2017, SAKI teams were hard at work tackling the backlog in their communities. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which leads the state’s SAKI team, led the first voluntary, statewide inventory of rape kits, with 100 percent participation from law enforcement agencies.

In North Carolina, the city of Fayetteville completed notification of victims whose kits had been destroyed years before. To ensure the privacy and the safety of victims, the Fayetteville Police Department created a notification protocol and partnered with the local rape crisis center in conducting notifications to ensure notification was victim-centered and survivors had resources for ongoing support.

Leadership in the New Year

Comprehensive reform will require not only legislators’ attention, but also the commitment and sustained participation from actors across all levels of government. Elected officials and state agency leaders can participate in working groups, elevate the discussion about rape kits, coordinate with each other, listen to survivors and victim advocates, and above all, keep in mind that reform across the government sends a message to survivors: you matter. In 2018, we encourage leaders throughout the country to follow the example of the changemakers profiled here, and ask what they can do to end the backlog and support sexual assault survivors in their state.

-By Lily Rocha, Policy & Advocacy Manager, January 16, 2018

END THE BACKLOG is an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials, and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists, and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.

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