Clearing Washington’s backlog of untested sexual-assault kits was never an end in its own right. It was a necessary step toward improving support for victims, solving crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice.
The Legislature is poised to do just that by approving Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1109, which builds on previous legislation. The bill’s unanimous approval in both chambers sends a clear message of support to sexual-assault survivors who have too often felt invisible, disbelieved or unimportant.
State senators made minor adjustments before passing the bill 49-0 late last month. House members should hasten to give their final blessing to the Senate’s changes and send it to Gov. Jay Inslee to sign it into law.
ESHB 1109 makes permanent a Criminal Justice Training Commission case review program developed last year to bring law enforcement up to speed on best practices for handling cases involving adult victims, including the impact of race and ethnicity on case outcomes.
Sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, longtime champion of this important crusade, the bill also expands and clarifies sexual-assault survivors’ rights, and ensures they’ll receive timely updates about the investigation and possible prosecution of their cases.
It builds on previous legislation aimed at eliminating the state’s disgraceful backlog of nearly 10,000 untested rape kits, ensuring timely testing and proper preservation of this potential evidence. Efforts to date have led to hundreds of matches in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System and led to several criminal charges, but more than 4,800 kits had yet to be analyzed at the end of January, according to the most recent sexual-assault kit tracking system report.
As amended, ESHB 1109 would require law enforcement agencies to send status updates at the state attorney general’s request, advising what actions they have taken when older rape kits result in a match.
These changes will ensure high standards and accountability in sexual-assault investigations and prosecutions, providing further assurances that Washington takes sexual assault seriously. As it must.