Idaho Takes Another Step in Rape Kit Reform

For Immediate Release: April 7, 2017
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org 

NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation today applauded Idaho Governor Butch Otter’s signing of H.B. 146, which will strengthen victim notification rights, increase access to medical forensic exams, and establish forensic evidence retention policies. These are important steps to take as part of comprehensive rape kit reform.

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. Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country.

Idaho began taking steps to end its backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits last year by enacting legislation to require the state crime lab to conduct an annual audit of untested kits. In December 2016, the Idaho State Police released its first report, finding that 1,116 kits remain untested statewide. Advocates, law enforcement, and legislators began working on solutions this legislative session. Joyful Heart strongly supported this bill and commended the legislature for allocating $222,300 in new funding in 2016 to support the Idaho State Police crime lab.

H.B. 146, which passed unanimously in the Idaho House and Senate, is another important step toward rape kit reform. The law will strengthen victim notification rights by requiring local law enforcement agencies to notify survivors when there is a change in case status or when their case is reopened. Additionally, the law requires healthcare providers to offer rape kit exams to all survivors, regardless of ability to pay, and requires law enforcement agencies to retain all sexual assault kits for longer periods of time, based on the presumed charges associated with the crime.

Below is a statement from Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation: 

“The Joyful Heart Foundation is proud to stand with Representative Melissa Wintrow, Senator Patti Anne Lodge, the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, and the dedicated advocates and law enforcement officials who worked on and fought for the passage of H.B. 146. This is an important step forward for the standardization of how rape kits are administered and handled across the state.

“Once a rape kit is collected, most survivors are never contacted about the status of their kit. H.B. 146 affirms that survivors have a choice about whether, how, and when to receive such information. The law will also require that survivors be notified no later than 60 days before the destruction of their kit, giving survivors the right to petition a court if they chose to preserve their kits for a longer period. Such provisions ensure Idaho’s efforts are survivor-focused.

“With this passage, Idaho has joined the growing number of states that have enacted rape kit reform laws.

“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.

“As Idaho’s multidisciplinary working group continues to advance reform and enact systemic changes, Joyful Heart offers our assistance to end the untested rape kit backlog. We look forward to supporting additional legislative reforms in Idaho.”

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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