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April 21, 2017 - Why Everyone Should Care About the Rape Kit Backlog Crisis

In the pursuit of justice, some sexual assault survivors undergo a rape kit test collection process.  We say “some” because it is estimated that between 60 and 80% of rapes go unreported.

The first step when filing a police report, the rape kit test collection process takes between 4 and 6 hours to complete. It is simultaneously invasive and re-traumatizing to those who have just survived a rape or sexual assault. Upon completion, these rape kits are sent to law enforcement agencies to be tested.

Often, days, months, and years pass with no results and no explanation. Their reports remain stalled and their assailants are not identified and are not brought to justice.

How often does this happen? We don’t know.

Experts estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the country, with potentially tens of thousands in California. We have enough information to know that this is an immense problem, but not enough to know exactly how many people are caught in limbo, how many kits remain untested, and why they weren’t tested.

I introduced Assembly Bill 41 to begin collecting this vital information, so that we can begin to address the backlog of rape kits in California.  Last year, I had introduced a similar bill, but it was stalled during the legislative process.

AB 41 will create a systematic approach for tracking rape kits and reporting this information, by mandating that law enforcement officials enter rape kits into an online database, to be created by the Department of Justice. Law enforcement agencies will have 120 days to enter the information of how many rape kits are collected, if they have been submitted to a DNA laboratory for testing, and if testing has generated results.

We cannot assemble a long-term and comprehensive solution to clear the statewide backlog of rape kits until we fully understand how many people are affected, how many kits remain untested and why they are still untested.

This is an opportunity for California to lead the nation on a vital public safety issue. Currently, there is no federal database with this information and very few states have their own databases. We would be one of the first states to create a tracking system for untested rape kits.

But, this is about far more than trailblazing. Untested rape kits are more than just collections of evidence. Each kit represents a person who endured a heinous crime and has taken the first, and immensely brave, step of filing a report - only to be left without DNA results and without justice. This is about the women who know that their attackers still walk free.

Untested rape kits is a crisis, and it affects all of us. Furthermore, rapists who are still free pose a threat to every member of our community. We have a moral obligation to work tirelessly, with every tool at our disposal, to support those who have been raped and to prevent it from happening wherever possible.

On Thursday, April 27, the entire Assembly will vote on AB 41. If it receives a majority of votes, it moves to the State Senate. AB 41 has already passed many hurdles in the journey to becoming a law - Thursday is its next one. If you would like to join our effort as a supporter, please add your name here.