California Takes Critical First Steps Toward Rape Kit Reform

For Immediate Release: October 13, 2017
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org

NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation today announced that California has passed into law two important steps to reform the way the state addresses untested rape kits in law enforcement custody and to strengthen victim’s rights, including access to information about the status of their kit. This significant accomplishment represents a breakthrough in the California legislature on this important issue that Joyful Heart has long advocated for in partnership with Assemblyman David Chiu, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.

“This passage represents years of advocacy by Joyful Heart and our partners to bring long-awaited justice to survivors in California, regardless of their zip code,” said Maile M. Zambuto, National Chief Executive Officer. “As an advocate and as a survivor of sexual assault, I applaud the legislature for taking these meaningful steps toward true reform in the state. Only after law enforcement agencies account for the untested kits in their custody can communities begin to take steps 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. By testing rape kits, communities can identify serial perpetrators, take dangerous offenders off the streets, exonerate the innocent, and prevent future crimes. Yet, too often, the decision is made not to test these kits. In fact, there are currently hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country.

The full extent of the untested rape kit backlog in California is unknown, with more than 13,000 untested kits having been identified to date. Despite being among the first states to uncover this issue almost a decade ago, cities across the state have engaged in inconsistent efforts at reform and transparency.

Governor Jerry Brown has signed two bills into law:

  • A.B. 41 requires law enforcement agencies and forensic labs to use the California Department of Justice (DOJ) SAFE-T evidence system to maintain and update information about the location and testing status of all newly collected rape kits. Additionally, the bill requires the California DOJ to submit an annual report to the legislature summarizing all rape kit data collected within the SAFE-T system the previous year.
  • A.B. 1312 includes provisions strengthening survivors’ rights to notice about the location and status of their kits and prohibiting law enforcement agencies from destroying rape kits for at least 20 years.

Ending the rape kit backlog will take a coordinated effort and deep commitment at all levels of government and in communities across the United States. Joyful Heart has launched a national campaign, developed following an extensive review, which formalized six pillars for reform. The goal: to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states.

“We are committed to working with the Governor and California state legislature to pursue additional legislative reforms, and hope this passage helps inspire further action and greater transparency,” added Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy. “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.”

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.

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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

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