More rapists could be brought to justice under a bill that will preserve potential evidence of sexual assault.
Gov. Jay Inslee should sign HB2318 into law.
Last week, state lawmakers passed the bill, which advances efforts to preserve sexual assault evidence kits and bring perpetrators to justice.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, creates minimum standards for local law enforcement agencies to maintain rape kits not yet connected with a criminal investigation, giving victims more time to consider whether to report assaults to police. It defines sexual-assault kits to include all evidence collected during a sexual assault medical forensic examination, which provide potentially essential evidence for investigating and prosecuting crimes. It establishes a system for tracking those kits so they are not forgotten or misplaced. It directs courts to collect DNA from convicted offenders during court appearances and will spur development of training and best practices for sexual-assault investigations.
These changes will help solve crimes and build faith in a legal system that has too often failed survivors of traumatic sexual assault.
The state is making steady progress, processing thousands of untested rape kits with the help of external partners. Orwall, a stalwart leader in this years’ long effort, says the state is still on track to eliminate the backlog within the next two years.
The results from previously untested rape kits have led to hundreds of matches in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, including dozens of matches indicating multiple assaults. Follow-up investigations have led to arrests and convictions of perpetrators of sexual crimes against women and girls.
About 75% of the nearly 10,000 untested rape kits still to be processed at the end of January are kits that have not been previously submitted by agencies — those as yet unrelated to criminal investigations that now are being sent for testing under recent changes to the law.
Preserving these kits allows victims time to consider whether to pursue criminal charges: An appropriately compassionate approach, given the sensitive nature of sexual crimes.
That is the ultimate purpose of clearing the state’s backlog of rape-evidence kits: To solve crimes, bringing justice for victims and making communities safer. Timely testing and proper storage of potential evidence are important steps toward that goal.