"Victims of sexual assault submit to these evidence kits with the belief that they will be tested and used as evidence on their behalf. While testing will not undo a horrific event, it could lead many of these cases one step closer to justice."
- Texas State Senator Wendy Davis
A small but growing number of states have implemented reforms to end the rape kit backlog, including legislation, policies and state funding. Joyful Heart's Drafter's Checklist for Rape Kit Reform provides guidance to state lawmakers drafting rape kit reform legislation in their state. It covers important provisions that should be included in any comprehensive rape kit reform legislation.
States such as Colorado, Illinois, Ohio and Texas have enacted legislation or policies that address their backlogs of untested rape kits, such as counting kits in law enforcement evidence facilities, testing kits that have been in storage for years, and/or developing guidelines so that a backlog will not reoccur.
Other states, such as Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Virginia, have passed legislation that takes a first step towards addressing their backlogs: requiring law enforcement agencies to conduct an inventory of untested rape kits in their custody. California and Michigan have enacted legislation that establishes guidelines for the processing of evidence after the law's effective date.
Some states have included funding for rape kit testing in their annual budgets. In Texas, for, example, the state budget for the 2014 – 2015 biennium includes $10.8 million for processing untested rape kits. It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 untested kits across the state.
In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder signed a supplemental budget bill in 2013, which dedicated $4 million in state legal settlement funds toward clearing the backlog of untested rape kits in Wayne County, which encompasses Detroit.
Governors, mayors, attorneys general and state auditors are also starting to investigate backlogs and press for rape kit reform. In Ohio, where legislation was also recently enacted, Attorney General Mike DeWine implemented a statewide initiative in 2011 requesting that all law enforcement agencies clear their backlogs. Attorney General DeWine also announced the creation of a new unit at the state’s crime lab to handle the influx of backlogged kits. In Kentucky, State Auditor Adam Edelen is directing the statewide audit of untested kits and has been working with crisis center, nurses, law enforcement and prosecutors on how to address the growing backlog in the state, and how to increase the number of kits tested.
These reforms have had varying levels of success. The ability for law enforcement, crime labs and prosecutors to implement newly enacted legislation and policies often depends, in part, on whether the additional resources and funding are dedicated to clearing the backlog and pursuing leads. Training is also key to ensuring a commitment to fully implementing new reforms, including re-engaging survivors whose kits have been part of the backlog, a process known as victim notification.
See more about the landscape of statewide reform across the country.