OLYMPIA – A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a package of bills related to rape kits and justice for survivors of sexual assault, dubbed “Safe Today” legislation. This is in reference to the acronym SAFE, which stands for Sexual Assault Forensic Examinations, the official name of rape kits.
HB 2530 and SB 6484 will track and test rape kits, used by medical staff and law enforcement to collect DNA evidence following an attack. The Legislature passed a law in 2015 to mandate rape kits be sent to the state crime lab within 30 days of being collected. These bills provide funding for both testing of kits by authorities, as well as tracking kits by law enforcement and victims. Additionally, it provides a five year grant for reinvestigating all cases where rape kits were in the possession of a law enforcement agency but not submitted for forensic testing by July 24, 2015, and creates the Washington Sexual Assault Kit Account that is eligible to accept private donations. Revenue for HB 2530 is collected to implement these new measures through a fee applied to patrons of sex oriented businesses, such as strip clubs.
“We don’t want to further delay justice for the victims of these heinous crimes. It’s time to work collaboratively and really move forward,” said House sponsor Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines. “The more kits we test, the higher the chances of identifying patterns of serial rapists; dangerous predators who often commit an average of 9 rapes before they are arrested. This bill will help get them off the streets sooner.”
“Individuals who have reported a sexual assault and have been through another traumatic experience – undergoing a rape exam – should absolutely have the assurance that the evidence collected will not sit on a shelf somewhere because there isn’t the funding or the framework in place to have the DNA analyzed,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. “We can’t change what happened, but as lawmakers, and human beings, we can give them one less thing to worry about.”
HB 2711, sponsored by Rep. Gina McCabe, R-Goldendale, would allow for a study to determine how services and care can be improved for survivors. There is currently a shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) who provide necessary examinations and follow-up appointments for survivors of sexual assault. The bill will study how many more of these nurses are needed, and how services directly related to sexual assault can be improved in underserved areas of the state, including rural and interurban communities.
“Sexual assault has no place in our communities, and it is a deeply troubling time for those who have had to endure such heinous acts,” said McCabe. “It is important that all sexual assault survivors have access to specific or specialized services and care, so they have an environment where they can feel safe, respected, and fully supported.”
SB 6561, prime sponsored by Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, joins a number of other states in eliminating certain statute of limitations on reporting felony assaults. Under current law in Washington, survivors are only given one year to report an assault in order to receive 10 years to file charges, which is much lower than many other states. This bill eliminates the statute of limitations for first degree felony sex offenses, increases the statute of limitations for third degree rape from 3 to 6 years and extends the statute of limitations for sex offenses against minors.
“The crime of sexual assault is not only an attack on a person’s body, but also on their psyche and sense of well-being and security,” said Jayapal. “It is not unusual for it to take years for survivors to come forward, by which time the attackers have often committed other assaults. Extending the statute of limitations on reporting of sexual assault crimes is necessary for survivors to come forward, whether that is immediately or months or even years later, in order to pursue justice in a way that best serves them.”
“At its heart, sexual assault is a public safety issue,” said Rivers, co-sponsor of SB 6561. “Lawmakers can honor the individuals they represent by taking seriously these sensitive and sometimes difficult to discuss crimes. These bills do more than just send a message, they provide justice and support for survivors of sexual assault.”
“The issue of sexual assault has only recently gotten the attention it deserves,” Orwall added. “But by moving these bills forward as a package, the 2016 Legislature has the opportunity to take the lead on ensuring survivors get the support and services they need, which are quite frankly long overdue.”