Following an emotion-filled hearing, members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee unanimously voted Friday to approve HB 200 – Sexual Assault Kit Processing Amendments, which mandates the testing of all non-restricted rape kits; a case is only considered restricted if the victim chooses not to interview with law enforcement about the sexual assault or sexual abuse.
Sponsored by Representative Angela Romero (Democrat – Salt Lake City), the bill requires law enforcement agencies to submit kits to the Utah Crime Lab within 30 days, however, a deadline for completion of testing each kit hasn’t is not determined in the bill. Furthermore, HB 200 authorizes the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to develop and implement a statewide sexual assault kit tracking system. In regards to training, Romero’s legislation calls for the DPS and the Utah Prosecution Council to develop and offer a training to law enforcement officers on responding to cases involving sexual assault or sexual abuse. Finally, The Peace Officer Standards and Training division would be required to provide training to people who are seeking certification as a peace officer.
If enacted, the new law is estimated to cost about $2.4 million a year. According to Utah Crime Lab Director Jay Henry, the majority of funding will go toward the hiring of new personnel in the Utah Crime Lab and the purchase of necessary testing supplies.
Dr. Julie Valentine, an assistant nursing professor at Brigham Young University, discovered that the number of rape kits being submitted tends to vary by jurisdiction. For example, she found that 4 percent of kits were submitted within a year of the assault for testing from one county in Southern Utah while a neighboring county turned in 39 percent. By instituting a statewide mandate, all counties would be on the same footing in terms of testing numbers. This also increases the chances of identifying serial rapists, Valentine told the committee.
April Ensign, sexual assault kit site coordinator at the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, said a recent survey found approximately 2,700 untested rape kits statewide. About 1,750 of those are in Salt Lake County. “Every single one of those numbers is a human life,” said Representative Elizabeth Weight (Democrat – West Valley City). Henry testified that one recently tested rape kit had been waiting since 1988.
Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, also representing the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said the police would love to test all rape kits but things usually get held up due to a lack of funds. “What you have to keep in mind is when you are dealing with a high number of sexual assaults and rapes and you have kits that need to be tested, you tend to try to get the kits through that you’re dealing with now and it didn’t make a lot of sense trying to go back when there just weren’t the resources available to get those tested. So it’s never been an issue of desire or want, it’s an issue of having the resources available.”
Salt Lake City resident Alyson Ainscough, who is a rape survivor, testified that she waited 10 years for her rape kit to be processed. Due to memory gaps from being drugged, she cannot identify her attacker. Unless an eyewitness steps forward or the perpetrator confesses, the only way to help provide clarity to what happened is the evidence in her rape kit. “It’s a disservice to survivors and those who undergo this procedure to delay the processing of evidence that could provide them answers and lead to holding those responsible to account for what they have done,” said Ainscough. “I urge you to support this bill. I think it is in the best interest of our state to enact this legislation for potentially preventing future crimes and holding perpetrators accountable, as well as preventing other rape survivors from having to endure the added trauma of waiting years to secure some answers.”
Lorcan Murphy, a rape survivor who didn’t report the crime due to in part the low conviction rate and the fact that evidence may not be processed for years, implored committee members to advance Romero’s bill. “For survivors, knowing that our evidence will be treated with respect and the urgency that it deserves will allow and empower survivors to come forward and let them know that the odds are not as impossible as they might seem and that they are respected,” said Murphy.
“I’ve been working on sexual violence and domestic violence legislation for the past five sessions and the one email I would always get was about a kit that wasn’t processed. It touches you. I read these stories, from women and men, and to know that we can move forward and provide them with an answer. Their perpetrator may never be caught, but they know that they went through that whole process and we listened,” said Romero.
HB 200 now heads to the full House.